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Manx Shearwater - BirdForum Opus

Photo by Glen Tepke
Photo taken in Gulf of Maine southeast of Bar Harbor, Maine, USA, 26 July 2004.
Puffinus puffinus


30-38 cm, wingspan 76-89 cm. Blackish or dark brown upper parts, white below, white wing linings, white crescent behind eye, short tail.

Similar Species

Yelkouan Shearwater, formerly considered a subspecies of Manx, is very similar, differing most obviously in its dark (not white) under-tail coverts, and longer legs which often project beyong the slightly shorter tail tip in flight; also usually marginally paler brown above.
Balearic Shearwater, also formerly considered a subspecies of Manx, is more distinctly paler brown above and dusky below, and with a somewhat 'pot-bellied' appearance in flight.
Audubon's Shearwater is smaller with shorter less-pointed wings, dark undertail coverts, and white spot near eyes.
Cory's Shearwater is much larger with much lighter brown body and wings, heavy yellow bill and white tail band.
Great Shearwater is much larger with lighter body, smudgy brown belly, neat cap, narrow pointed wings. and white tail band.


Manx Shearwater nests primarily in the eastern North Atlantic, most importantly on islands off the coasts of Britain (94% of the world population), with particularly important colonies on Rhum in western Scotland (approx 140,000 pairs), and Skokholm and Skomer in southwest Wales (about 150,000 pairs between the two islands). Smaller colonies also occur in Ireland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, off Brittany in France, and on the Azores and Madeira. A recent colonist in the New World, with a small colony found off Newfoundland in Canada, and in 2009, the first confirmed young fledged within the USA, in Maine.

Outside breeding season, it migrates to southern Atlantic, south to at least 55°S off the coast of Argentina. Since the 1970s have been seen as a rare but increasingly regular vagrant in eastern north Pacific, and recorded as a vagrant in Australia and New Zealand.


Up to seven other species has in the past been treated as subspecies of Manx Shearwater.


Clements recognizes these subspecies[1]:


Strictly pelagic when not breeding, and very mobile, with e.g. birds from Skokholm making 1,500 km round trips to the Bay of Biscay to get food for their chicks.



Glides and banks low over the water on stiff straight wings, with bursts of wingbeats followed by long glides; in stronger winds, often arcs high over waves to increase flying efficiency by picking up gusts deflected by the waves. One of the longest-lived birds in the world, with individuals over 50 years old known, and calculated to have flown eight million km in their lifetimes3.


Nests colonially in burrows on grassy slopes of islands, often at some distance from the sea. Visits burrows after dark.



  1. Clements, J. F., P. C. Rasmussen, T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, T. A. Fredericks, J. A. Gerbracht, D. Lepage, A. Spencer, S. M. Billerman, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2023. The eBird/Clements checklist of Birds of the World: v2023. Downloaded from https://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Gill, F, D Donsker, and P Rasmussen (Eds). 2023. IOC World Bird List (v 13.2). Doi 10.14344/IOC.ML.13.2. http://www.worldbirdnames.org/
  3. New Scientist (25 April 2003) Venerable bird notches five million air miles
  4. Collins Field Guide 5th Edition

External Links

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