Lost at Sea: Why the Birds You Don’t See Are Fading Away

Seabirds are being devastated by predators, fishing, and climate change. Saving them begins with knowing more about them.

Imagine a slender, mouse-gray bird, no bigger than a starling, that spends most of its life on open ocean.

In cold water and all weather, the ashy storm petrel—a warm-blooded animal that weighs less than an ounce and a half—forages among the waves for tiny fish and ocean invertebrates. Fluttering with dangled legs, its toes skimming the surface, it gives the impression of walking on water, like the biblical Peter.

Although storm petrels as a group are among the world’s most abundant and widespread birds, ashies are rare and found only in California waters. They have a distinctive strong musky odor; you can smell them in the fog. They’re most at home on the water, but, like all birds, they need to be on land to lay eggs and raise their young. For this, they prefer undisturbed islands. To escape the attention of predators, they nest underground, in rock crevices or burrows, and come and go only at night.

Read This Next

First great apes at U.S. zoo receive COVID-19 vaccine made for animals

The priceless primate fossils found in a garbage dump

Buried for 4,000 years, this ancient culture could expand the 'Cradle of Civilization'

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet