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New England Seabirds

 Wilson's Storm-petrel  Dave Jones


Shearwaters Index

Great Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater
Cory's Shearwater
Manx Shearwater
Audubon's Shearwater
Little Shearwater




Great Shearwater

Puffinus gravis

Great Shearwater fight over suet Dave Jones

 Two Great Shearwaters fighting over suet.Dave Jones

Comments to webmaster

Other Names
Formerly called Greater Shearwater.

Where and When to see
The Great Shearwater is a southern hemisphere breeder appearing in New England waters in late April and remaining into early winter. It is attracted by chumming and follows in the wake of boats. Often seen where whales are actively feeding or behind a fishing boat that is cleaning fish.

Can be seen from any New England port and north into the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf of St. Lawrence . Great Shearwaters sit on the water in large flocks of 50 to 100 birds. Often found with gulls.

September to May on two islands in the Tristan da Cunha group (5+million pairs), and on Gough (Golf) Island  (600,00 - 3 million pairs). The islands are located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean east and south of Cape Town South Africa. A few pairs on Falkland Islands on the western side of the Atlantic. (Endicott 1997) To read more about the islands that support the breeding colonies see Wikipedia.

In April and May, the Greater Shearwater leaves the breeding grounds and migrates north crossing the ocean to vacation in the north west Atlantic including the Gulf of Maine where we see large numbers of them on Stellwagen Bank.

Good numbers are also seen in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and north to Greenland.

In the fall the birds fly east to the coast of Europe and down the north west coast of Africa and cross the ocean again. This time coming closer to the coast of Brazil and then back east to the islands. The migration path is thus a figure eight.Endicott (1997)

Migration of Great Shearwater in the Atlantic

The Great Shearwater has pink legs, dark cap,black bill, black spots on the body just under the wing, and a white band on the rump.

The only other bird with which to confuse it in New England is Cory's Shearwater which is slightly larger and has a yellow bill.

You can see the nostrils and hooked bill typical of the Order Procellariiformes. 

The Great Shearwater has a dark belly patch on the otherwise white belly and throat which is seldom noticed at sea. The photograph below shows this dark belly patch.  Notice the rain on the water. Photographs  by Steve Mirick .

Great Shearwater Steve Mirick
Great Shearwater dark belly patch Steve Mirick

Great Shearwater molting EB Tarry

Molting Bird.

The white bands on the wing of this Great
Shearwater are typical of a molting bird. Notice also the white tail band and the brownish upper wings. Photo by Emmalee Tarry and taken with film.

Great Shearwater head down looking for food S Spangenberg


Flies with typical "shearwater flight".
Picks up food from the surface and may plunge dive. from 6-10m above the surface. Also dives from surface. (Harrison 1983)
Follows fishing boats.

This bird has put its head under the water to look for food. Great Shearwaters are known to have noisy fights over food. See photo above.

Photo by Scott Spangenberg.


              Great Shearwater sitting on ocean. Etarry                    


Seabirds  |  Shearwaters  Index  |  Great  |  Sooty  |  Cory's  |   Manx   |  Audubon's   |  Little | Top of Page       Comments to webmaster


 Harrison, Peter (1983) Seabirds an identification guide Houghton Mifflin Company; Boston

Howell, Steve N.G. (2012) Petrels, Albatrosses & Storm-petrels of North America A Photographic Guide Princeton University Press; Princeton

Olney, Derrick and Scofield, Paul (2007) Albatrosses, Petrels & Shearwater of the World Princeton University Press Princeton

Enticott, Jim and Tipling, David (1997) Seabirds of the World: The Complete reference Stackpole Book, Mechanicsburg, PA