SOOTY SHEARWATER (Puffinus griseus)

The Sooty shearwater is about 38 cm (15 in.) long and is a long distance traveler. Their range includes large parts of the ocean around the world. The name ‘shearwater’ comes from the way these birds fly – the wings are kept stiff, with very few wing beats, with the tips almost touching the water. Their flying behavior allows them to travel thousands of kilometers with little energy.

The sooty shearwater is dark grey (hence the word ‘sooty’) for the most part, and ‘griseus’ means ‘grey’. The birds breed on small islands in the South Pacific Ocean, including around New Zealand. The sooty shearwater is called ‘muttonbird’ in that country, where the fledglings are collected for food, at the rate of several hundred thousands per year.

Because they breed in burrows in the ground, those birds are particularly vulnerable wherever domestic animals – such as cats, dogs, rats, pigs, etc., are present. The sooty shearwater feeds on fish and squid, and can dive as deep as 200 feet. The sooty shearwater’s main habitat is the open ocean, but they can be seen along the coasts of continents.

The sooty shearwater apparently inspired Alfred Hitchcock for his movie ‘The Birds’. He was living in California at the time, and there has been an incident of thousands of sooty shearwaters poisoned by toxic algae. Before the birds died, some of them behaved strangely, for example throwing themselves into objects.

The sooty shearwater is rare on PEI. There have been some sightings at East Point on October 26, 2005. The bird is considered as ‘near threatened’ as it is vulnerable to some fishing practices such as longline and trawling.

Sooty shearwater - off Kaikoura Peninsula, NZ
Sooty shearwater – off Kaikoura Peninsula, NZ