Also known as Shoemaker Petrel, Cape Hen

Latin name: Puffinus griseus

Sooty Shearwater (Photo © Mike Baird)

Sooty Shearwater (Photo © Mike Baird)

Population: About 20,000,000 birds.

Cites classified: Near Threatened (IUCN, 2008)

Where found: The Sooty Shearwaters have the largest range of all shearwaters and are found throughout the world’s oceans except the Arctic basin and the tropical portions of the Indian Ocean. 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.

Wingspan: 94-105 cm

Length: 40-46 cm

Weight: 650-950 g

Mating/Breeding: The Sooty Shearwater start breeding in November/December in self-excavated burrows, or cavities on well-vegetated slopes, principally on offshore islands. The Sooty Shearwater lays one egg, incubated for about 50-56 days. The chicks fledge after 86-106 days.

Eggs: White.

Hunting Habits: The Sooty Shearwater can dive up to 68 m deep for food, but more commonly take surface food, in particular often following whales to catch fish disturbed by them. The Sooty Shearwater will also follow fishing boats to take fish scraps thrown overboard. The Sooty Shearwater usually feed in large flocks, often with other seabirds.

Feed on: Cephalopods, fish and crustaceans.

Threats: In New Zealand, about 250,000 Sooty Shearwaters are harvested for oils, food and fats each year by the native Māori. Young birds just about to fledge are collected from the burrows, plucked and often preserved in salt. Longline fisheries are responsible for large numbers of deaths of this and many other seabird species. Some authorities postulate that the decline may be associated with climate change.

Colour/Looks: The Sooty Shearwater are dark brown with slender bodies, long bills and long, backswept wings. Their only markings are variable amounts of light brown, grey or white on the underwing.

Interesting Trivia:

  • In New Zealand it is also known by its Māori name tītī and as “muttonbird”
  • The Sooty Shearwater 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.
  • Sooty Shearwater fly 65,000 km (39,000 miles) in a roundtrip journey each year. It is the longest recorded animal migration.
  • The Sooty Shearwater has the typically “shearing” flight of the genus, dipping from side to side on stiff wings with few wingbeats, the wingtips almost touching the water. The Sooty Shearwater’s flight is powerful and direct, with wings held stiff and straight.

More info:

  • Terra Nature Organisation
  • Hadoram Shirihai, A complete guide to Antarctic wildlife (2002)
  • David McGonigal & Lynn Woodworth, Antarctica and the Arctic. The complete encyclopedia (2001)
  • Tony Soper, Antarctica. A guide to the wildlife (2000)