The sooty shearwater has dark
gray-brown plumage that looks almost black up
close and is somewhat lighter on the underside.
Its wings have a silvery lining, and it has a
long, blackish-gray bill. An average-sized member
of the shearwater family, individuals average
15-20 inches in length, have a wingspan of up to
43 inches, and weigh less than 1.5 pounds. Both
sexes are similar in color and size, and chicks
are generally smaller versions of their parents.
One of the most widespread of
all seabirds, the sooty shearwater is found on
all the oceans of the world. It spends most of
the year far from land, but breeds in huge
colonies on islands off New Zealand, Australia,
southern Chile, and Argentina. Some populations
are known to migrate over 40,000 miles a year
between their feeding grounds in the northern
oceans and their breeding grounds and back.
Breeding pairs typically stay
together for life, although it is not known
whether either partner will seek a new mate if
the other one dies. Huge flocks containing 2.5
million or more pairs begin arriving at the
breeding grounds toward the end of September, and
egg-laying usually begins in mid-November.
Individual birds that have recently become
sexually mature spend the intervening time
courting each other and forming into breeding
The nest is a burrow under
grass or low scrub that may be up to 10 feet
long. The single egg is incubated by both parents
for about 53 days, and the chick is fed by both
parents until fleging at about 97 days of age.
The breeding colonies typically begin breaking up
in late-April or early-May.
The sooty shearwater feeds on
fish, crustaceans, and cephalopods. The bird
hunts by flying low over the open water and
either snatching prey from the surface or
plunging into the water and pursuing prey under
water. When under water, it beats its wings for
propulsion and can reach a depth of over 200 feet
before having to resurface.
Outside of the breeding season,
sooty shearwaters are usually found in loose
flocks of up to 50 individuals. They are usually
quiet in flight, but are quite noisy when ashore.
Their most common calls are der-rer-ah
Although still widespread in
distribution, the sooty shearwater has
experienced some population declines in parts of
its range and is considered a near threatened
species. The most common hazard faced by the
species is long-line fishing, which uses lines of
hooks that may stretch for miles behind the
boats. The birds attempt to take the bait off the
hooks but end up getting caught by the hooks and
dragged underwater instead. In New Zealand, sooty
shearwater chicks are taken by the native Maori.
genus & species Puffinus griseus
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