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New England Seabirds

 Wilson's Storm-petrel  Dave Jones


Shearwaters Index
Great Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater
Cory's Shearwater
Manx Shearwater
Audubon's Shearwater
Little Shearwater

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Little Shearwater
Puffinis assimillis assimillis.


Macronesian Shearwater
Puffinus assimilis baroli


Little Shearwater Jeremiah Trimble

Historic Macronesian Shearwater photographed
on August 23,2007 BBC Extreme Pelagic by Jeremiah Trimble

First Confirmed Sighting of Macronesian Shearwater in North American Waters
On August 25, 2007 a Little Shearwater was spotted from the BBC Extreme Pelagic. This bird was very cooperative and many pictures were taken. After much debate it was decided that it was the subspecies P. a. baroli also considered a full species known as Macronesian Shearwater by some authorities. See table below to understand the status of this bird.

Taxonomy of the Little Shearwater/ Audubon’s Shearwater Complex
Harrison 1983, starts the discussion of the Little Shearwater Puffinus assimilis with this sentence. " Fragmented distribution in all three major oceans..." This is a clue that in the future the species may be split into several species.

Shearwaters and other seabirds tend to return to their natal (where they were born) colonies to breed. Any factor that leads to separate breeding populations isolates the gene pools and favors evolution into separate species. Breeding regularly in separate locations or even breeding in one location by two subspecies, but at different times of the year provides sufficient separation to create substantially different gene pools.

Little Shearwater and Audubon's Shearwater
Three birds variously classified as subspecies of Little and Audubon's Shearwater breed in the North Atlantic and are distinguishable in the field.
Harrison (1983) lists 7 or 8 subspecies of Little Shearwater and 9 or 10 subspecies of Audubon's Shearwater. Fortunately we need only deal with three subspecies which breed and disburse in the North Atlantic.

Harrison has a subspecies of Little Shearwater Puffinus assimilis baroli.

Olney and Scofield (2007) elevate this subspecies to Macronesian Shearwater Puffinus baroli and move the Cape Verde subspecies P. a. boydi to Audubon's Shearwater Puffinus lherminieri boydi

The British Ornithological Union 2005 report combines the Cape Verde subspecies formerly Puffinus assimilis boydi with P.a.baroli as Macronesian Shearwater Puffinus baroli.

Harrison 1983

Olney and Scofield 2007

British Ornithological Union

Little Shearwater

Puffinus assimilis assimilis            (SWPacific)

Little Shearwater

Puffinus assimilis


P. a. elegans
(southern oceans)

Subantartic Shearwater

Puffinus elegans


P.a. baroli
(breeds Azores,      Desertas, Salvage and Canary Is)
(disburses:  North Atlantic east and west )

(Cape Verde Island status under review. Perhaps
should be with Audubon's SW)

Macronesian Shearwater

Puffinus baroli (Eastern No. Atlantic)

Macaronesian Shearwater

P. baroli baroli - (Breeds year round Macronesia except Cape Verde)

P. b. boydi - (Breeds year round on Cape Verde Island)

Audubon's Shearwater

Puffinus lherminieri

Audubon's Shearwater

Puffinus lherminieri lherminieri (Carribean)

Puffinus lherminieri boydi
(Cape Verdi Islands)

Audubon's Shearwater

P. lherminieri (monotypic)
(Breeds year round on Carribean Islands, Bermuda)

How can I see a Macronesian or Little Shearwater?
Go on many many offshore pelagics and get very lucky. The only photograph documented sighting on the American side of the Atlantic of Macronesian Shearwater was on the August 27, 2007 BBC Extreme Pelagic. A more sure bet is to take a trip to Macronesia.

Where is Macronesia?

Map of Africa coast showing Macronesia

From Wikipedia
Macaronesia is a modern collective name for several groups of islands in the North Atlantic Ocean near Europe and North Africa belonging to three countries: Portugal, Spain, and Cape Verde.

The name comes from the Greek for "fortunate islands", a term used by Ancient Greek geographers for islands to the west of the Straits of Gibraltar.

Identification of Macronesian Shearwater on the 8/25/07 Trip.
Most closely resembles a Manx or Audubon's Shearwater. See Onley and Scofield 2007 for a complete description of what they call the Manx Type Shearwaters and the Little/Audubons Complex.

Macronesian Shearwater Scott Spangenber 2007

I can do no better than to quote directly Blair Nikula's description from his web page: (link has been archived.)

and illustrated in these two photographs.

"... the extensively white face with eye completely surrounded by white; the rounded head; small bill; white undertail coverts; extensively white underwing with relatively narrow dark border; blackish dorsal coloration; “

Macronesian Shearwater photographed on 8/25/2007 BBC Pelagic by Scott Spangenberg.

Macronesian Shearwater Jeremiah Trimble

Left Jeremiah Trimble photograph of Macronesian Shearwater from 8/25/2007.

Clearly shows “the two white bars on the inner wing” mentioned by Blair Nikula above.

Also "... the extensively white face with eye completely surrounded by white;”

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Harrison, Peter (1983) Seabirds an identification guide Houghton Mifflin Company; Boston

Howell, Steve N.G. (2012) Petrels, Albatrosses & Storm-petrels of North America A Photographic Guide Princeton University Press; Princeton

Olney, Derrick and Scofield, Paul (2007) Albatrosses, Petrels & Shearwater of the World Princeton University Press Princeton