Audubon's Shearwater (Puffinus lherminieri)


A small black and white shearwater of pantropical distribution. Taxonomy of this species (including its relationship to Little Shearwater) is extremely complex and uncertain. Hopefully some brave soul will undertake the daunting task of re-examining the systematics of the group using a combination of molecular, behavioral and morphological criteria. It would not be a surprise to see a major reshuffle of subspecies within the Little/Audubon's complex.

Distinctive forms such as Heinroth's Shearwater, Persian Shearwater and Bannerman's Shearwater are sometimes considered full species (e.g. Sibley and Monroe).

At least 10 subspecies are recognized:

Caribbean/North Atlantic
P. l. lherminieri - Bahamas and West Indies
P. l. loyemilleri - Caribbean Islands to Venezuela
P. l. boydi - Cape Verde Islands (sometimes included under Little Shearwater)

P. l. subalaris - Galapagos
P. l. dichrous -Fiji, Phoenix Islands, Line Islands, Marquesas, Gambier
P. l. gunax - New Hebrides

Indian Ocean
P. l. bailloni (also known as Baillon's Shearwater) - Mascarene Islands
P. l. nicolae - Anirantes, Seychelles, Maldives and Chagos
P. l. temptator - Comoros Islands in Indian Ocean
P. I. colstoni - Aldabra


Occurs in three zones: west and central Indian Ocean, the tropical Pacific and Caribbean/Gulf Stream. Potential confusion with other Puffinus species in each zone. To add to the problems there is much geogrphical variation between subspecies. The Caribbean subspecies (P. l. lherminieri) for example is both larger and longer tailed than the Galapagos subspecies (P. l. subalaris).  Frequently quoted features such as leg color, tail length and presence of dark undertail covert seem to be quite variable and cannot be applied across the board.

Fig. 1 Audubon's Shearwater photographed in the Gulf Stream off North Carolina. Photo by Angus Wilson© 1999

Tail length: typically long.

Undertail coverts: Typically dark, note however that the Galapagos subspecies (P. l. subalaris) and Mascarene subspecies (P. l. bailloni) have white undetail coverts. In eastern North America, the dark undertail coverts provides a convenient means to separate Audubon's Shearwater from Manx Shearwater which is also proportionally larger and darker black above .

Flight rapid and fluttery. Should be used with extremely caution and only with experience. All shearwaters alter their flight style in response to wind conditions and what they are doing (migrating, feeding etc).

Close up views of the dark undertail coverts and head of an Audubon's Shearwater from Jamaica. Notice the pink feet and extensive dark mask over the eye. Photographs copyright of Bernie Zonfrillo© 2002.

Where and When

Click here to view a range map for the Caribbean and central America.

Photographs on the web

Brian Patteson's site has the following helpful images:
Dorsal view in flight taken in North Carolina in August.
Side view in flight Taken in August.
Three worn/molting individuals in flight Taken in July.

Dorsal view in flight taken by Steve Kerr and posted on the FONT web site.

Side view in flight. Posted on Alabama Ornithological Society site.


Copyright © 2002 All rights reserved. Angus Wilson
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