E. Cobham Brewer 18101897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
The stormy petrel. So named, according to tradition, from the Italian Petrello (little Peter), in allusion to St. Peter, who walked on the sea. Our sailors call them Mother Careys chickens. They are called stormy because in a gale they surround a ship to catch small animals which rise to the surface of the rough sea; when the gale ceases they are no longer seen.