Sooty Shearwater

Sooty Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Subclass: Neornithes
Infraclass: Neognathae
Superorder: Neoaves
Order: Procellariiformes
Family: Procellariidae
Genus: Puffinus (disputed)
Species: "P." griseus
Binomial name
Puffinus griseus
Gmelin, 1789
Range of the Sooty shearwater in dark blue and breeding sites in yellow

The Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus) is a medium-large shearwater in the seabird family Procellariidae. In New Zealand it is also known by its Māori name tītī and as "muttonbird", like its relatives the Wedge-tailed Shearwater (P. pacificus) and the Australian Short-tailed Shearwater (P. tenuirostris).

It appears to be particularly closely related to the Great ("P." gravis) and Short-tailed Shearwaters, all blunt-tailed, black-billed species, but its precise relationships are obscure.[1] In any case, these three species are among the larger species of shearwater which might belong into a separate genus Ardenna.[2]



Up close, the chocolate-coloured plumage can be appreciated

Sooty Shearwaters are 40–51 cm in length with a 94–110 cm wingspan.[3] It has the typically "shearing" flight of the genus, dipping from side to side on stiff wings with few wing beats, the wingtips almost touching the water. Its flight is powerful and direct, with wings held stiff and straight, giving the impression of a very small albatross. This shearwater is identifiable by its dark plumage which is responsible for its name. In poor viewing conditions it looks all black, but in good light it shows as dark chocolate-brown a silvery strip along the center of the underwing.

Usually loud, Sooty Shearwaters coo and croak while on the breeding grounds.

In the Atlantic, it is the only such bird, whereas in the Pacific part of its range, other all-dark large shearwaters are found. Particularly the Short-tailed Shearwater is almost impossible to tell apart from the present species at a distance.[4]

Distribution and movements

Upper body of a bird swimming off the shore of California

Sooty Shearwaters breed on small islands in the south Pacific and south Atlantic Oceans, mainly around New Zealand, the Falkland Islands, Tierra del Fuego and also in the Auckland Islands and Phillip Island off Norfolk Island. They start breeding in October, and incubate their young for about 54 days. Once the chick hatches, the parents raise their chicks for 86 to 109 days.[3]

They are spectacular long-distance migrants, following a circular route, travelling north up the western side of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans at the end of the nesting season in March–May, reaching sub Arctic waters in June–July where they cross from west to east, then returning south down the eastern side of the oceans in September–October, reaching to the breeding colonies in November. They do not migrate as a flock, but rather as single individuals, associating only opportunistically; in June 1906 for example, two were shot near Guadalupe Island off Baja California (Mexico), several weeks before the bulk of the population would pass by.[5] Likewise, the identity of numerous large dark shearwaters observed in October 2004 off Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands remains enigmatic; they might have been either Sooty or Short-tailed Shearwaters, but neither species is generally held to pass through this region at that time[4].

In the Atlantic Ocean, they cover distances in excess of 14,000 km (8,700 mi) from their breeding colony on the Falkland Islands (52°S 60°W) north to 60° to 70°N in the North Atlantic Ocean off north Norway; distances covered in the Pacific are similar or larger; although the Pacific Ocean colonies are not quite so far south, at 35° to 50°S off New Zealand, and moving north to the Aleutian Islands, the longitudinal width of the ocean makes longer migrations necessary. Recent tagging experiments have shown that birds breeding in New Zealand may travel 74,000 km in a year, reaching Japan, Alaska and California, averaging more than 500 km per day.[6]

In Great Britain, they move south in late August and September; with strong north and north-west winds, they may occasionally become 'trapped' in the shallow, largely enclosed North Sea, and heavy passages may be seen flying back north up the British east coast as they re-trace their steps back to the Atlantic over northern Scotland.

Ecology and status

A small portion of a huge flock off the shore of California, USA in September

The Sooty Shearwater feeds on fish and squid. They can dive up to 68 m deep for food,[6] but more commonly take surface food, in particular often following whales to catch fish disturbed by them. They will also follow fishing boats to take fish scraps thrown overboard.

They breed in huge colonies and the female lays one white egg. These shearwaters nest in burrows lined with plant material which are visited only at night to avoid predation by large gulls.

In New Zealand, about 250,000 mutton birds are harvested for oils, food and fats each year by the native Māori.[3] Young birds just about to fledge are collected from the burrows, plucked and often preserved in salt.

Its numbers have been declining in recent decades, and it is presently classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN.[7] In 2009 the harvest reported record low catches, on average a trapping cage would yield nearly 500 birds, in 2009 the number was estimated to be closer to 40 per cage.


  1. ^ Austin (1996), Heidrich et al. (1998), Austin et al. (2004)
  2. ^ Penhallurick & Wink (2004), but see also Rheindt & Austin (2005)
  3. ^ a b c McGonigal, David (2008). Antarctica: Secrets of the Southern Continent. Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books. p. 220. ISBN 978-1-55407-398-6. 
  4. ^ a b VanderWerf (2006)
  5. ^ Thayer & Bangs (1908)
  6. ^ a b Shaffer et al. (2006)
  7. ^ BLI (2008)


  • Austin, Jeremy J. (1996): Molecular Phylogenetics of Puffinus Shearwaters: Preliminary Evidence from Mitochondrial Cytochrome b Gene Sequences. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 6(1): 77–88. doi:10.1006/mpev.1996.0060 (HTML abstract)
  • Austin, Jeremy J.; Bretagnolle, Vincent & Pasquet, Eric (2004): A global molecular phylogeny of the small Puffinus shearwaters and implications for systematics of the Little-Audubon's Shearwater complex. Auk 121(3): 847–864. DOI: 10.1642/0004-8038(2004)121[0847:AGMPOT]2.0.CO;2 HTML abstract
  • BirdLife International (BLI) (2008). Puffinus griseus. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 6 January 2009.
  • Heidrich, Petra; Amengual, José F. & Wink, Michael (1998): Phylogenetic relationships in Mediterranean and North Atlantic shearwaters (Aves: Procellariidae) based on nucleotide sequences of mtDNA. Biochemical Systematics and Ecology 26(2): 145–170. doi:10.1016/S0305-1978(97)00085-9 PDF fulltext
  • Penhallurick, John & Wink, Michael (2004): Analysis of the taxonomy and nomenclature of the Procellariiformes based on complete nucleotide sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene. Emu 104(2): 125-147. doi:10.1071/MU01060 (HTML abstract)
  • Rheindt, F. E. & Austin, Jeremy J. (2005): Major analytical and conceptual shortcomings in a recent taxonomic revision of the Procellariiformes - A reply to Penhallurick and Wink (2004). Emu 105(2): 181-186. doi:10.1071/MU04039 PDF fulltext
  • Shaffer, S.A.; Tremblay, Y.; Weimerskirch, H.; Scott, D.; Thompson, D.R.; Sagar, P.M.; Moller, H.; Taylor, G.A.; Foley, D.G.; Block, B.A. & Costa, D.P. (2006): Migratory shearwaters integrate oceanic resources across the Pacific Ocean in an endless summer. PNAS 103(34): 12799-12802. doi:10.1073/pnas.0603715103PDF fulltext Supporting figures
  • Thayer, John E. & Bangs, Outram (1908): The Present State of the Ornis of Guadaloupe Island. Condor 10(3): 101-106. doi:10.2307/1360977 DjVu fulltext PDF fulltext
  • VanderWerf, Eric A. (2006): Observations on the birds of Kwajalein Atoll, including six new species records for the Marshall Islands. Micronesica 38(2): 221–237. PDF fulltext

Further reading

  • Bull, John L.; Farrand, John Jr.; Rayfield, Susan & National Audubon Society (1977): The Audubon Society field guide to North American birds, Eastern Region. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. ISBN 0-394-41405-5
  • Harrison, Peter (1988): Seabirds (2nd ed.). Christopher Helm, London. ISBN 0-7470-1410-8
  • Gillson, Greg (2008): Field separation of Sooty and Short-tailed Shearwaters off the west coast of North America Birding 40(2): 34-40.

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • sooty shearwater — noun or sooty petrel : a brownish black shearwater (Puffinus griseus) of the south Pacific that migrates in the nonbreeding season to the north Atlantic and north Pacific * * * sooty shearwater, a shearwater common on the Atlantic coast of North… …   Useful english dictionary

  • sooty shearwater — pilkoji audronaša statusas T sritis zoologija | vardynas atitikmenys: lot. Puffinus griseus angl. sooty shearwater vok. Dunkler Sturmtaucher, m rus. серый буревестник, m pranc. puffin fuligineux, m ryšiai: platesnis terminas – tikrosios… …   Paukščių pavadinimų žodynas

  • sooty shearwater — n. dark gray or brown medium size shearwater …   English contemporary dictionary

  • sooty shearwater. — See under mutton bird. * * * …   Universalium

  • sooty shearwater — /sʊti ˈʃɪəwɔtə/ (say sootee shearwawtuh) noun a pelagic bird, Puffinus griseus, which ranges widely in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, breeding in south eastern Australia, New Zealand and some Southern Hemisphere islands; king mutton… …   Australian English dictionary

  • sooty shearwater. — See under mutton bird …   Useful english dictionary

  • Shearwater — Taxobox name = Shearwaters image width = 200px image caption = Audubon s Shearwater chick regnum = Animalia phylum = Chordata classis = Aves ordo = Procellariiformes familia = Procellariidae subdivision ranks = Genera subdivision = Calonectris… …   Wikipedia

  • shearwater — /shear waw teuhr, wot euhr/, n. any of several long winged petrels of the genus Puffinus that appear to shear the water with their wing tips when flying low. [1665 75; SHEAR + WATER] * * * Any of numerous species (family Procellariidae) of long… …   Universalium

  • sooty petrel — noun see sooty shearwater …   Useful english dictionary

  • Great Shearwater — Taxobox name = Great Shearwater status = LC | status system = IUCN3.1 image width = 250px regnum = Animalia phylum = Chordata classis = Aves ordo = Procellariiformes familia = Procellariidae genus = Puffinus species = P. gravis binomial =… …   Wikipedia