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The petrels are seabirds in the bird order Procellariiformes. They occur in three families within that group, which also includes the Albatross family, Diomedeidae.

The family Procellariidae is the main radiation of medium-sized 'true petrels', characterised by united nostrils with medium septum, and a long outer functional primary. It is dominant in the Southern Oceans, but not so in the Northern Hemisphere.

It includes a number of petrel groups

  • The fulmars: 7 species: surface predators and filter feeders, breed in high latitudes but migrate along cool currents to he north. All but Fulmarus essentially confined to the south, Fulmarus apparently colonised the N hemisphere during the Tertiary.
  • The prions, genus Pachyptila. A specialised group of six very numerous species, all southern. They have a small, fulmar-like form and filter-feed on zooplankton.
  • The gadfly petrels. These are large and agile short-billed petrels in the genus Pterodroma.
  • Shearwaters in the genera Calonectris, Puffinus and Procellaria. The three species in the last genus are named as petrels
  • Petrels of indeterminate relationships

The family Hydrobatidae is the storm-petrels, small pelagic petrels with a fluttering flight which often follow ships.

The family Pelacanoididae is the four species of diving petrels, genus Pelacanoides. These are auk-like small petrels of the southern oceans.

The taxonomy of the petrels is complex, and several genera are intermediate.

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