[pe-truh l]


any of numerous tube-nosed seabirds of the families Procellariidae, Hydrobatidae, and Pelecanoididae.

Origin of petrel

1670–80; earlier pitteral, of uncertain origin; perhaps altered by association with St. Peter (who attempted to walk on the water of Lake Gennesareth), alluding to the bird's habit of flying close to the ocean surface Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for petrel

Historical Examples of petrel

  • I intend to charter the Petrel, which has just discharged the cargo she brought here.

    At Aboukir and Acre

    George Alfred Henty

  • “No,” said the major, shaking his head, as he gazed out to where the Petrel lay.

    Mother Carey's Chicken

    George Manville Fenn

  • The Leach's Petrel, Murre, and some other sea birds, have but one egg.

    The Bird Study Book

    Thomas Gilbert Pearson

  • Her decks spouting flame, the Petrel raced on to meet the enemy.

    El Diablo

    Brayton Norton

  • Mascola turned angrily on the leather cushion and glared at the Petrel's deck.

    El Diablo

    Brayton Norton

British Dictionary definitions for petrel



any oceanic bird of the order Procellariiformes, having a hooked bill and tubular nostrils: includes albatrosses, storm petrels, and shearwatersSee also storm petrel

Word Origin for petrel

C17: variant of earlier pitteral, associated by folk etymology with St Peter, because the bird appears to walk on water
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for petrel

seabird, 1670s, pitteral, modern spelling first recorded 1703 by English explorer William Dampier (1651-1715), who wrote the bird was so called from its way of flying with its feet just skimming the surface of the water, which recalls the apostle's walk on the sea of Galilee (Matt. xiv:28); if so, it likely was formed in English as a diminutive of Peter (Late Latin Petrus). If this is folk etymology, the true source of the name is undiscovered. French pétrel (1760) probably is from English.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper