from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. Any of numerous black, gray, or white sea birds of the order Procellariiformes, especially the storm petrel.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. Any of various species of black, grey, or white seabirds in the order Procellariiformes.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. Any one of numerous species of longwinged sea birds belonging to the family Procellaridæ. The small petrels, or Mother Carey's chickens, belong to Oceanites, Oceanodroma, Procellaria, and several allied genera.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A small black-and-white seabird, Procellaria pelagica; hence, any similar bird of pelagic or oceanic habits, with webbed feet, long pointed wings, and tubular nostrils, belonging to the family Procellariidæ and subfamily Procellariinæ.
  • n. The kittiwake, a gull.
  • n. An obsolete form of poitrel.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. relatively small long-winged tube-nosed bird that flies far from land


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

Perhaps alteration of earlier pitteral (perhaps influenced by Saint Peter walking on the water, from the fact that the bird flies so close to the water as to appear to be walking on it).

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Perhaps a diminutive of Peter, with reference to St. Peter's walking on the water (Matthew 14:29).


  • "He also observed young juveniles in flight, which indicated the birds were breeding nearby, and recovered a dead Beck's petrel from the sea - now only the third museum-held specimen." ...

    Archive 2008-03-01

  • "The Beck's petrel is a sea bird that may be nocturnal and is thought to breed in the Bismarck Archipelago, in an area of circular, mountainous islands."

    Archive 2008-03-01

  • You must make your escape quietly when the moon has set, and fly like a poor petrel from the foot of some sombre reef.


  • "The rats have placed in serious risk – on the edge of extinction – the Galapagos petrel, which is a marine bird unique in the world and of which only 120 remain," the project's manager, Victor Carrion, told The Associated Press by telephone from the islands.

    Full-Scale Assault Launched Against Invasive Galapagos Rats

  • "The rats have placed in serious risk - on the edge of extinction - the Galapagos petrel, which is a marine bird unique in the world and of which only 120 remain," the project's manager, Victor Carrion, told The Associated Press by telephone from the islands. rss feed

  • The petrel is a bird not much unlike a swallow, but smaller, and with a shorter tail.

    A Voyage to New Holland

  • Some have interpreted the Hebrew word by "petrel" or

    Easton's Bible Dictionary

  • [FOOTNOTE 25: Eighteenth Century mariners called the petrel (a large sea bird) "Mother Cary's chicken."] [FOOTNOTE 26: crack-loo -- a form of gambling in which coins are tossed high into the air with the object having one's coin land nearest a crack in the floor] "Was I on to the opportunity?

    Heart of the West [Annotated]

  • Non-endemic threatened birds include the waved albatross Phoebastria irrorata (VU) and Markham's storm-petrel Oceanodroma markhami.

    Galápagos National Park & Galápagos Marine Resources Reserve, Ecuador

  • This was as a protection to the hut in the periods of the great gales when all the island was as a tiny petrel in the maw of the hurricane.

    Chapter 19


Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

  • But not fueled by petrol. ;->

    Sarra: Worders and birders. I love it! Rolig, thanks for that link. I'm not as familiar with Russian literature as I should be. :-)

    December 9, 2007

  • Reesetee, the full text in both English and Russian can be found here.

    Thanks, Sarra, for confirming my suspicion! As the Wikipedia article states, this prose poem got Gorky sent to prison. One might even say that to some small degree the Russian Revolution was fueled by the Petrel.

    December 8, 2007

  • Veda is connected to wit, you're right. The OED's etymological entry for the latter is beautiful: a vast journey across a swathe of Teutonic languages, to Old English, down to the mythical Indo-European, and of course to Sanskrit, taking in quite a tapestry of cognates along the way.

    The variety of bird species and that of languages are becoming quite intertwined in my mind, now. Ancestry, migrations… and of course, etymologists and ornithologists; linguaphiles and birdwatchers. Worders and birders.

    December 8, 2007

  • Excellent background rolig. I feel like having a petrel right now but Scotland is only giving me rain in my face :-( Trieste's quite a place, I can understand why Joyce tarried awhile. Thanks.

    December 8, 2007

  • Rolig, what a wonderful excerpt--beautiful description of storm petrels. Thanks!

    December 8, 2007

  • Thanks, bilby. The Russian word "vestnik" is commonly used in the sense of "bulletin" by learned societies. The Slavic root is -ved-, which has to do with knowing (in this case, making known); in Slovene, "to know" is "vedeti", for example. It's the same IE root that shows up in the Hindu Vedas, and in English in wit (I think that's true). As for bure-, that comes from the Russian word burya, "storm". In Slovene, this same word, as "burja" has come to mean, specifically, the strong wind that blows toward the Adriatic. The Italians in the area (esp. Trieste) have borrowed the Slovene word and call this wind "bora". And there you have it.

    December 8, 2007

  • Really liked that rolly. I got the bit about vestnik as in herald ... isn't there a newspaper by that name? But the image is quite gorgeously constructed.

    December 8, 2007

  • Shifting the discussion a little to the east, my primary connotation for "petrel" comes from Gorky's 1901 prose poem "The Song of the Stormy Petrel" (Pesnya o burevestnike – the Russ. "burevestnik" – petrel – means literally "storm-herald"). The opening sentences are:

    "Over the gray flatness of the sea the wind gathers storm-clouds. Between the clouds and the sea proudly soars the stormy petrel, as a streak of black lightning.

    Now the waves on wingtip touching, now as an arrow shooting to the clouds, he screams, and — the clouds hear joy in the bird's proud cry."

    December 8, 2007

  • Well, despite being in Finland for 2 weeks over Moneymas and New Year, and taking 300 photos, there are almost no faces in same. Finns, probably wisely, do not indulge in Ostentatious Proboscis Displays when it's minus 20. I have no idea.

    December 8, 2007

  • Yes, but do Finns really have that extra tunnel above their regular old noses? If so, it would be fitting to call them tube-nosed. Now, that junkyard part, I don't know about.

    December 8, 2007

  • I admire tube-nosed for its expressive qualities but it's not that flattering really. I mean, we humans use all these terms for other species. But if imagine if the Burundi Encyclopaedia described Finns as: a blonde, tube-nosed people living on a junkyard of snow. All hell would break loose, and petrels would still hover above it. But I like stormy petrels, I do.

    December 8, 2007

  • Always liked that phrase, too. Tube-nosed. Perhaps they should be required to have emissions inspections. :-)

    These are amazing birds, really. The word "petrel" derives from the Latin for Peter--St. Peter, that is. It refers to some petrels' ability to hover just above the waves, with their feet barely touching the surface, so they appear to be walking on water.

    December 8, 2007

  • I'm concerned about the carbon footprint of petrels. Don't blame SUV's, the problem is RSL-WT-NBs.

    December 8, 2007