Sooty Shearwater

Did you know?

Commercial harvesting of Sooty Shearwaters occurs around Stewart Island, New Zealand. It is the only species allowed to be sold commercially and is used mostly for food, but some are used for making soap and lubricating oil.

usually silent at sea but sometimes calls whenb flying over colonies. It calls a lot when on the ground and in the burrow. Its main called is described as a loud, rythmically repeated "der-rer-ah" or high-pitched "coo-roo-ah".
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What does it look like?

The Sooty Shearwater is an entirely dark brown-grey bird, apart from a broad pale stripe down the centre of each underwing. It has a long slender bill, a slender head and a longish neck. Its tail is short and rounded. In flight it has a cuciform shape, with its feet trailing slightly behind its tail.

This bird can also be called King or New Zealand Mutton Bird, Sombre Petrel or Shearwater.

Similar species: 

A similar species is the Short-tailed Shearwater, A. tenuirostris, which is smaller, with a smaller bill. Close up the Short-tailed has a more abrupt head profile, compared to the Sooty's flatter-crowned appearance  and less obvious forehead. The Wedge-tailed Shearwater, A. pacifica, is quite different with smaller head and body, long slender wedge-shaped tail and long broad wings. Its flight is lazy and buoyant and does not have the bursts of stiff-winged fluttering of the Sooty. The Flesh-footed Shearwater, A. carneipes, has a heavier paler bill and broader wings than the Sooty, and has a more leisurely less flapping flight.

Where does it live?

In the breeding season, southern summer, the Sooty Shearwater is found in the southern hemisphere from the iceberg zone around Antactica northwards to its breeding islands around New Zealand, southern Australia and southern South America. In the non-breeding season it has been recorded as passing near Tonga, east of Hawaii and elsewhere in the North Pacific. Some stay in the northern hemisphere all year. It is uncommon in Queensland but has been seen off its south-east coast. It is commoner off New South Wales and visits  Victoria, and is regularly seen in small numbers off Tasmania and South Australia. There are scattered observations from off Albany, Western Australia.


The Sooty Shearwater mostly lives over deep ocean waters, but is sometimes found in onshore areas particularly in rough weather. It breeds mostly on subtropical and subantarctic islands around Australasia and also on the New Zealand mainland.

Seasonal movements: 

Sooty Shearwaters migrate southwards to breeding colonies for the southern summer to nest in southern Australia, New Zealand and southern South America. In the non-breeding season the move to the Bering Sea and the north Atlantic in the northern hemisphere. Most adults leave the breeding islands by second week in April. They mostly return in September. Migrating flocks can be huge consisting of up to 500,000 birds.

What does it do?

 Sooty Shearwaters feed on a wide range of marine fauna found in deep ocean waters, such as squid, fish and crustaceans. They mostly catch their prey by diving either from the sea surface or from 3 to 5 m above it, but usually from less than 1 m. They propel themselves under the water by slowly flapping their wings, and can dive to about 2 m, and stay submerged for up to 12 seconds.


The Sooty Shearwater nests on offshore islands, but in New Zealand sometimes  on mainland headlands. It nests in a burrow or rock crevice on slopes, ridges or cliff tops. It prefers herbfields, tussock or forest and avoids water logged or shallow soils and dense vegetation. Its burrow may be winding in friable soils but is otherwise straight. The nesting chamber is at the burrow's end and the nest is roughly consructed of materials such as leaves, twigs, grass and seedlings. Eggs are incubated by both parents for up to 16 days at a time. The sitting bird fasts throuhout its time on the nest. As the chicks grow the interval between feeds increases and has been recorded as 25 days between feeds.

Living with us

On Macquarie Island  tussock areas grazed by rabbits have fewer burrows than ungrazed areas. The former colony on Tasman Island, Tasmania, was probably affected  by development of gardens, sheep grazing or feral cats.

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