Great Shearwater (Puffinus gravis)

"In calm weather, they are fond of alighting on the water, in company with the Fulmars, and are then easily approached. They swim buoyantly, and have a graceful appearance while playing among themselves. Two that had been caught with hooks, walked as well as Ducks, and made no pretence of sitting on their rumps, as some writers have said they do. On being approached, they opened their bills, raised their feathers, and squirted an oily substance through their nostrils, which they continued to do when held in the hand, at the same time scratching with their sharp claws and bills. They refused all sorts of food; and as they were unpleasant pets, they were set at liberty. To my great surprise, instead of flying directly off, as I expected, they launched toward the water, dived several yards obliquely, and on coming to the surface, splashed and washed themselves for several minutes before they took to wing, when they flew away with their usual ease and grace."

John James Audubon (1840) in Birds of America, Vol. VII.


Also commonly refered to as Greater Shearwater. Old names that have fallen into disuse include the rather attractive Wandering Shearwater and also Cinerous Puffin.


Figure 1. Greater Shearwater photographed in the Gulf Stream off North Carolina in August 1996 during a pelagic trip with Brian Patteson Inc.

Where and When

Almost the entire world population breeds in the Tristan da Cunha Group (up to 5 million pairs) and Gough Island (up to 3 million pairs) with a smaller number breeding on Kidney Island in the Falklands.

Photographs on the web

Brian Patteson has posted a number of excellent shots on his web site.
Close-up ventral view, showing belly patch and underwing pattern.
Head on view on water.
Dorsal view in flight.
Another dorsal view in flight. A very ratty looking individual.
Close-up of bird on water. Lovely detail!

Form the FONT web site:
Ventral view. By B. J. Rose.
Dorsal view. Photo by Steve Kerr.
Landed on water. Photo by Steve Kerr.
Two individuals taking flight. Photo by Mary Gustafson.

On water. Alabama Ornithological Society. Photo uncredited.


Copyright © 2002 All rights reserved. Angus Wilson
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