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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. Having a fossil record that extends back at least 60 million years, it is among the older bird groupings, other than the ratites, with distant ties to penguins and loons. However, recent research shows that the Galliformes (railss and relatives), and Anseriformes (ducks, geese and swans) are older.

All the members of the order are exclusively pelagic in distribution -- returning to land only to breed.

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 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.