Latin name: Puffinus gravis

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater

Population: At least 4 million.

Cites classified: Least Concern (IUCN, 2008)

Where found: The Great Shearwater, like the Sooty Shearwater follows a circular route, moving up the eastern seaboard of first South and then North America, before crossing the Atlantic in August. The Great Shearwater can be quite common off the south-western coasts of Great Britain and Ireland before heading back south again, this time down the eastern littoral of the Atlantic. The Great Shearwater breeds on Nightingale Island, Inaccessible Island, Tristan da Cunha, and Gough Island.

Wingspan: 100-118 cm

Length: 43-51 cm

Weight: 715-950 g

Mating/Breeding: The Great Shearwater starts breeding in October/November in self-excavated burrows, in dense tussac grassland and low woodland. The Great Shearwater lays one egg, incubated for about 56 days. The chicks fledge after about 120 days.

Eggs: White.

Hunting Habits: The Great Shearwater catches its food from the surface or by plunge-diving. It readily follows fishing boats, where it indulges in noisy squabbles.

Feed on: Fish and squid.

Threats: Not globally threatened.

Colour/Looks: The Great Shearwater is identifiable by its size, dark upperparts, and underparts white except for a brown belly patch and dark shoulder markings. The Great Shearwater has a black cap, black bill, and a white “horseshoe” on the base of the tail.

Interesting Trivia:

  • The Great Shearwater is one of only a few bird species to migrate from breeding grounds in the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere, the normal pattern being the other way round.
  • The Great Shearwater 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. The Great Shearwater’s flight is powerful and direct, with wings held stiff and straight.

More info:

  • Hadoram Shirihai, A complete guide to Antarctic wildlife (2002)
  • David McGonigal & Lynn Woodworth, Antarctica and the Arctic. The complete encyclopedia (2001)