Potential new species for Hong Kong

Potential new species for Hong Kong

I’ve long been thinking about what to expect in HK waters which has never occurred in HK before, and to compile a list of some candidates. Different species of seabirds (in the broad sense) have occurred in the most unlikely locations on earth, very far away from their usual area (1,000’s of kilometres).

Just a few ‘crazy’ records:

Ascension Frigatebird in the UK
Black-browed Albatross in Europe
Elegant Tern in Europe
Great Shearwater in Australia and in New-Zealand
Tristram’s Storm Petrel in Australia
Great-winged Petrel in Spain
Grey-faced Petrel in California
Jouanin’s Petrel in Hawaii
Ross’s Gull in Spain
Short-tailed Shearwater in Ireland and France
Recently an Ancient Murrelet in Finland

And the list goes on…

So, I’ve compiled this list of seabird candidates for HK. Some might be recorded sooner or later; some will never turn up here. Increasing and more powerful storms and climate change might have an impact on some seabird movements. And the list might not be complete either; feel free to add anything, with a bit of reasoning. And you could perhaps find additional information that adds to the possibilities, or in some cases even likelihood, that some of the species listed below – or yet others – could turn up in HK.

The main issue is to expect them, be prepared for them and look for them. This will greatly increase the chances of a sighting.
I’ve put an * behind the names to indicate:

* unlikely, but possible
** perhaps likely
*** likely

Of course, with “likely” I don’t mean many or regularly, just a likely new vagrant. It’s not all that scientific, but just some thoughts from and for open minds.

Chinese Crested Tern***
Wintering grounds and migration routes might still not be thoroughly known, bus has been recorded in Guangdong, Thailand and South China. I guess this is one of the most likely candidates. Paying special attention to every crested tern is probably the best way to find one. A Chinese Crested Tern might very well be among a group of Greater Crested.

Red-tailed Tropicbird***
Has been seen off Guangdong and also around Taiwan. This might be one of the more likely candidates, as well.

Sabine’s Gull***
Recorded outside their known wintering grounds, in Sumatra (Indonesia), Taiwan, East China and Australia. Could very well turn up in HK, too.

Arctic Tern**
Mentioned in a previous post, to which I refer here: ... mp;page=1#pid87068. It’s a matter of checking every tern that flies close enough (although most of them don’t).

Bonin Petrel**
Breeds on Volcano and Ogasawara Islands in Japan and generally migrates north during non-breeding season, but recorded off Taiwan and Fujian province (China), which is relatively close to HK.

Flesh-footed Shearwater**
Worldwide not so common as Sooty Shearwater (see further), but occurs around Japan and there are many sightings around Taiwan.

Leach’s Storm Petrel**
Has been seen off Guangdong, although that single record was in itself of a bird outside (what is believed to be) its normal range. But it occurs in most of the Pacific, although more to the centre and east, and is an abundant seabird (population 20+ million). The distribution is not fully known; it might as well regularly occur in the South China Sea.

Matsudaira’s Storm Petrel**
A migrating species that flies from Volcano Island (Japan) to East Africa, but (according to literature) not trough the South China Sea. A typhoon could possibly bring this one to HK.

Red-necked Grebe**
Winters south to East China, as does Horned Grebe, which has once been recorded in HK.

Sooty Shearwater**
Occurs in the Pacific, and reported from Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. A young bird that gets caught up in a typhoon could make it to HK, I reckon. At least it’s an abundant species in many oceans.

South Polar Skua**
Breeds on coastal Antarctica. In the Pacific, it makes a clockwise migrating journey, all the way to Japan, Alaska and British Columbia (so maybe more likely to turn up in HK in spring/summer). Also occurs between India and Australia, and sometimes off Taiwan.

Wilson’s Storm Petrel**
One of the most widespread and abundant seabirds in the world. Records from parts of Southeast Asia, and on eBird quite a few claims from Ogasawara and northwards to off the Japanese mainland. In between lies Hong Kong… And there is a claim of 2 white-rumped storm petrels in Tolo Channel on 19 March 1989.

Buller’s Shearwater*
In the Pacific, its distribution range is somewhat similar to Leach’s Storm Petrel, but Buller’s Shearwater is not an abundant species. So this would be a though(er) one.

Laysan Albatross*
Of the albatrosses that occur relatively nearby, Laysan is the commonest. I guess the chances for one to occur in HK is low, but who knows.

Providence Petrel*
A migrating petrel, occurring between Japan, Australia and Hawaii. Alas, it’s not an abundant seabird species. Perhaps with a typhoon (but similar reasoning as with Tahiti Petrel).

Tahiti Petrel*
Recorded near Taiwan, and for a seabird, Hong Kong is not that far from the island. If a Herald Petrel ( can make it to Hong Kong (even to Mai Po!), then a Tahiti Petrel could, too.


Some nice thoughts Bart. It's always good to have a "possibles" list to be prepared.

But one of the problems with seabirds in Hong Kong waters is that the South China Sea is 'protected' by all the islands separating it from the Pacific Ocean, where most of these seabirds live - Taiwan, The Philippines, Indonesia all form a ring around the South China Sea and block Pacific seabirds from coming through.
So we tend to see those seabirds breeding in northern areas of China, Korea and Japan, which make their way south and west. Such as terns and gulls, divers, murrelets, Streaked Shearwaters, even Bulwer's and Swinhoe's Storm Petrel.
Short-tailed Shearwater gets through because I think it migrates north from the Antarctic region into the Indian Ocean and then goes through the Singapore Straits to get to Japanese waters for it's winter.

Some wanderers will get through - Herald Petrel is a great example. Who could ever have believed that would turn up in Mai Po!

But I think your best bets are Chinese Crested Tern going south, and maybe South Polar Skua going north.  

I know I won't stop you from looking, and I don't want to. You've already shown us that some species are commoner in HK waters than we previously recorded them.
Keep it going! An albatross would be really nice!


Superb list and a very thought-provoking post. I've also decided to give my thoughts on this, with considerations of landbird species as well, in this post: ... e%3D1&frombbs=1 .

Do give it a read if of any interest!