Muttonbirding is a seasonal harvesting activity, which may be recreational or commercial, of the chicks of petrels, especially shearwater species, for food, oil and feathers. Although the hunting of petrels and other seabirds has occurred in numerous places since prehistoric times, and there is evidence that many island populations have become extinct as a result, ‘muttonbirding’ usually refers now to the more sustainable and regulated harvesting of shearwaters in Australia and New Zealand.[1] These include the Short-tailed Shearwater, also known as the Yolla or Australian Muttonbird, in Bass Strait, Tasmania, and the Sooty Shearwater, also known as the Titi or New Zealand Muttonbird, in the far south of New Zealand.



Licenced commercial harvesting of Short-tailed Shearwater chicks on the coast and islands of Tasmania began in 1903, although it had long been a traditional form of subsistence harvesting by Tasmanian Aborigines and European settlers there. However, by the late 20th century the industry was declining due to falling demand for the product and reduced interest by younger indigenous people in the main area of activity, the islands of the Furneaux Group.[2]

New Zealand

The harvesting of Sooty Shearwater chicks on 36 islands, known as the Titi or Muttonbird Islands, around Rakiura (Stewart Island), is managed entirely by Rakiura Māori. There is some evidence that this harvest has been occurring since at least the 17th century.[3]


Muttonbird may refer to various seabirds, particularly petrels in the genus Puffinus, called Shearwaters, where the young birds are harvested for food and oil by being extracted by hand from the nesting burrows before they fledge. Some species are:

See also


  1. ^ Anderson, Atholl. (1998). Origins of Procellariidae Hunting in the Southwest Pacific. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 6(4): 403-410.
  2. ^ Skira, I. (1996). "Aboriginal people and muttonbirding in Tasmania". In: M. Bomford & J. Caughley (eds),Sustainable use of wildlife by Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islanders, Bureau of Resource Sciences: Canberra.
  3. ^ Hawke, David; Newman, Jamie; Moller, Henrik; & Wixon, John. (2003). A possible early muttonbirder’s fire on Poutama, a Rakiura titi island, New Zealand. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 33(2): 497-507.

Further reading

  • Adam-Smith, Patsy. (1965). Moonbird People. Rigby: Adelaide. (About the Furneaux group of islands in Bass Strait, the muttonbirds that inhabit them and the people who make their living from them).

External links

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