‘Stormies’: Cast your bird upon the waters!

Jess Hey holding a stormie in the Algarve (Dr Rob Thomas)

An old biblical proverb reads, ‘Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.’ This is usually taken as advice to take risks and wait for long-term reward.

Storm-petrels know all about seafaring and risk-taking. Only the size of a swallow, these marine birds cross the oceans in search of small animals in the water surface. Of the 25 species, many are declining due to introduced cats and rats killing the birds at their nesting grounds, marine pollution and climate change.

For 30 years, A Rocha Portugal and Cardiff University have been studying European Storm-petrels Hydrobates pelagicus, catching them to ring them and take DNA and stomach content samples – increasing our understanding of the travels, longevity, populations and diet of ‘stormies’. The 2019 season was a big success, with 230 birds ringed. 13 had been ringed before, including two in the Faroe Islands (2,800 km away!) by one of the Algarve ringing volunteers, Jessica Hey.

‘I was working for Anne Ausems from the University of Gdańsk,’ recounts Jessica, ‘helping her collect samples for her PhD whilst also collecting samples for my Masters studying the diet of Storm-petrels. I first discovered my love of seabirds at A Rocha in the Algarve at the end of my first year of university – and so it seemed like the right way to finish my degree too!’

Long-term scientific studies are essential to the knowledge and conservation of these precious birds. And if you cast your bird upon the waters, you may just find it again.

Flashback – Click below to hear a few anecdotes of stormie ringing in the 1990s told by A Rocha co-founder Peter Harris:

Mykines, the westernmost of the Faroe Islands (Anne Ausems)

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