Sooty Shearwater

Common Name: Sooty Shearwater

Scientific Name: Puffinus griseus


Length: 41 - 51 cm. All plumages: Sooty brown above and below, darkest on upper wings and tail; bill black and more slender than that of the Greater Shearwater; underwing linings are grayish white.

The Sooty shearwater is a pelagic bird, that is, a bird that lives in open oceans and normally only come ashore to breed.

Sooty Shearwaters are migratory birds common in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, where they range from the Antartic pack ice to North of the equator. They are commonly found at sea in flocks numbering over 20,000 birds feeding on anchovies, squid and small crustaceans. From November through to April they bred in large colonies in New Zealand, Tasmania, the Falkland Islands and on Islands off Cape Horn. The birds lay a single egg in burrows exposed to sea winds.

In New Zealand, the Sooty Shearwater is known as the Oi or Mutton Bird. It is still a significant part of the diet of many Maori, and around a quarter of a million chicks are harvested each year. It has similarly been a staple food of the Palawa peoples of Tasmania, who likewise continue to harvest the bird, notably on the islands of the Bass Straight.


Crustaceans, plankton, and small fish


Breeds in New Zealand and adjacent islands, in the Falklands and on islands near Cape Horn. Outside the breeding season, it is widely distributed north to Labrador, southern Iceland, the Faeroes and western Norway in the Atlantic and also occurs widely in the Pacific.


These birds outnumber Greater Shearwaters when the two species first arrive here in May, but the ratio is soon reversed as the Sooty Shearwaters quickly pass on to the eastern Atlantic. Only a small portion of this species' total population migrates to the North Atlantic; the majority winters in the North Pacific or off Peru.

Similar Species

Gulls are not as gray and flap their wings more slowly and smoothly and lack the tube on top of the bill. The gray morph of the Northern Fulmar is stockier and has a yellow bill. Flesh-footed Shearwater has pink legs and bill. Short-tailed Shearwater is very similar but is somewhat smaller with a steeper forehead.

Identification Tips

  • Length: 16 inches Wingspan: 43 inches
  • Sexes similar
  • Pelagic bird only coming ashore to breed
  • Large shearwater
  • Dark bill with tube on top
  • Dark gray head, body and feet
  • Pale underwings
  • Rapid wingbeats
  • Glides on stiff wings