Flesh-footed Shearwater

Did you know?

Flesh-footed Shearwaters can nest in the same area as Great-winged Petrels,Pterodroma macroptera. The latter breed in winter while the Shearwaters breed in summer. Both will use the same burrow but if one pair rears a chick the other will usually be prevented from using that burrow in the following season.

The Flesh-footed Shearwater has a number of calls, but it is generally silent at sea. Its main call starts with a "gug-gug-gug" to be followed witth a hoarse asthmatic crooning "ku-koo-ah" with stress on the middle sound and last being like a sob. This cr
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Breeding season: 
September - May
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Nestling Period: 
92 days
Conservation Status
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What does it look like?

The Flesh-footed Shearwater is dark brown on its upper side, being darkest on its head and outer wings. The under side is dark brown and underwings greyish brown. The  blackish tail is gently wedged shaped or rounded. It has a  dark-tipped pale horn-coloured beak and pink legs and feet. It is also known as Fleshy-footed Petrel or Shearwater, Big or Lord Howe Island Muttonbird or Pale-footed Shearwater.

Similar species: 

The Flesh-footed Shearwater is distinguishable from other all-dark shearwaters by its large pale beak. The Wege-tailed Shearwater, P. pacificus, has pink legs and feet, like the Flesh-footed Shearwater, but has a slender dark beak, has a slighter build and longer tail. On land the  Flesh-footed Shearwater is a less awkward walker than other shearwaters and can run well without spreading its wings.

Where does it live?

Flesh-footed Shearwaters are widely distributed across the southern Indian and south-west Pacific Oceans. In the non-breeding season they are found in the central and northern Pacific Ocean, as far north as Japan and southern Alaska, and across most of the Indian Ocean, except the Bay of Bengal. However some are found in coastal and pelagic, southern Australian waters, all year round. Some are found as far north as 16*S. Around Australia non-migrating Flesh-footed Shearwaters can be found south from about Fraser Island to around Tasmania, then westward to south-west Western Australia, and then northward up the Western Australian coast till about 25*S. They are common in New South Wales and South and Western Australia.They are also found around the North Island of New Zealand and the northern coasts of the South Island. In addition they are found at Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands.  


Flesh-footed Shearwaters are pelagic birds, most often found over continental shelves and slopes, except when they are migrating.

Seasonal movements: 

Flesh-footed Shearwaters migrate from New Zealand and the Tasman Sea to the east coast of Korea, and from south-western Australia to the northern Indian Ocean. They leave New Zealand waters in early May but the last young ones leave Lord Howe Island by third week of May.  They arrive at Korea Straits late March/ early April and further north in June. Some are seen off California from May to November. Adults depart in early September, but younger ones stay till October. They arrive back at Lord Howe Island between early September and October and off New Zealand in October. Birds from south-western Australia migrate to the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Oman, with fledglings departing at end of April to early May. They probably travel via the southern Indian Ocean and Lacadive and Maldive Islands. The birds arrive by 25th May. They arrive back at Eclipse Island, south-western Australia, by the third week in September.

What does it do?

The diet of Flesh-footed Shearwaters is not well known but they do eat fish and cephalopods. They have been seen to eat seeds of Knicker Nuts, Caesalpinia bonduc, near Lord Howe Island. Food is obtained by chasing it and plunging into the sea. It is either caught at the surface or up to 4 m deep. The often take discards in the wakes of fishing boats. They have also been seen dashing amongst sea gulls on the beach to seize food. They usually feed during the day.


Flesh-footed Shearwaters breed in colonies on islands covered with scrub or forest, with a good depth of soil. They nest in burrows built into gentle to steep slopes and their burrows are generally about 1 to 2 m long. The same burrow is probably used by a pair year after year. The nest is found in an enlarged chamber at a burrow's end. Building usually occurs at night and the entrance of an occupied burrow is often blocked with plant matter. Both male and female share in incubation and  in guarding chicks for the first 2 to 3 days. Chicks are fed by both parents by regurgitating food and are fed, on average, every second night until they are up to 12 days old. A fledged chick finally departs from the burrow at night. Chicks can fly straight away and are then independent of parents.

Living with us

Colonies of Flesh-footed Shearwaters can be troubled by introduced predators, such as foxes, and by building of man-made structures, such as light houses and tracks. They were subject to mutton-birding in both Australia and New Zealand, and by past attempts to develop pastures on some New Zealand Islands.

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