New England Seabirds

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Greater Shearwater
Puffinus gravis

Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island
Photo by Emmalee Tarry

Other Names
Great Shearwater.

When and Where To See
Southern Hemisphere breeder appears in New England waters in late April and remains into early winter. It is attracted by chumming and follows in the wake of the boat. 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 .

Sitting Greater SW - Emmalee Tarry Digital photo Greater Shearwaters often 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 Island (600,00 - 3 million pairs). Both 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.(1)(2) For a map and to read more about the islands that support the breeding colonies see Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island .

In April and May, the Greater Shearwater leaves the breeding grounds and migrates north crossing the ocean to vacation in the north east 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 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. (4)

Flies with typical "shearwater flight". Picks up food from the surface and by making shallow dives from the surface.


Greater Shearwater by Steve Mirick
Notice pink legs, dark cap, black bill, and black spots on the body just under the wing. The only other bird with which to confuse it on the east coast 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.Both this photograph and the next by Steve Mirick and used with his permission. Photographs remains the property of the photographer.

The white bands on the wing of the Greater Shearwater at the top of this page are typical of a molting bird. Notice the white tail band and the brownish upper wings.
Greater Shearwater has a brown-black, smudgy patch on belly which is very hard to observe at sea. You can see it clearly in this photo of a flying bird by Steve Mirick.Taken on the July 2007 Extreme Pelagic.  Notice the rain on the water.  Photograph owned by the photographer and used with his permission.

Greater Shearwater by Steve Mirick One final picture of a Greater Shearwater, this one just barely showing the patch on the belly.  This photo by Steve Mirick also.
Greater | Sooty | Cory's | Manx | Audubon's Last update: 07/25/2007