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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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Manx Shearwater

 Puffinus puffinus

Manx Shearwater sitting left with Great Shearwater Glen Tepke

 Manx Shearwater left is somewhat smaller than the Great Shearwater on the right.  Notice the white crescent behind the eye of the Manx and how the dark cap extends down the back of the neck of the Manx so that it does not have the capped appearance of the Great Shearwater.Glen Tepke photo.

Northern Hemisphere Breeder
Once known as the British Shearwater, the Manx Shearwater is the most northern breeding shearwater. It breeds around the British Isles and recently has extended its breeding range to North America. The Manx Shearwater got its common name because at one time it bred on the Calf of Mann, a small island just south of the Isle of Mann between Ireland and Great Britain. It winters in the waters off Brazil.

When sitting on the water, Manx Shearwater can be distinguished from Greater Shearwater by its much smaller size and white flanks. See photo above.

Look for the bright white flanks and the white crescent behind the eye. Wing tips extend beyond the tail. Notice there is no black capped appearance to the Manx as you would see on a Greater. Sitting and flying shows a "whiter white and a blacker black" than Great Shearwater.

In flight look for the white flank patches and lack of white rump expected in Greater or Cory's Shearwaters. This bird was photographed taking off from the water so the wing tips are not as pointed as when the bird is already in flight.

Feet do not trail behind the tail.

When viewed flying from a distance the Manx Shearwater seems to have a blacker black and whiter white when compared with either Great or Cory's Shearwater.

Manx Shearwater Steve Mirick

Manx Shearwater flying Steve Mirick
Manx Shearwater under parts E Tarry

The photograph at left is unfortunately not in good focus but it does show the clear white under sides. . Notice the white under tail, the clean white underwings, and pointed wing tips.

Perhaps some kind photographer will send me a better picture of the under side of the Manx shearwater.

Manx Shearwaters currently breed on the coasts of Wales and Ireland; on the Shetland, Orkney, and Scilly Islands; and on the Inner and Outer Hebrides, the Azores, Salvages, and Madeira Islands. Also Iceland and the Faroe Islands and 3 times in Bermuda. A colony has been reported on a private island off the coast of Newfoundland and one nest in Maine produced a chick.

Nests in burrows on high cliffs, grassy slopes, and rocky islands. Burrows up to 4 feet deep. Comes and goes from the nest only at night and then onoly on dark cloudy or moon less nights to avoid predation by Gulls..

Manx Shearwaters rafting up in evening Skommer Island EB Tarry

Shearwaters and other seabirds tend to gather in rafts on the water offshore of breeding colonies in the evening waiting for the cover of darkness to approach their burrows.

In the picture to left Manx Shearwaters are flocking on the water just off Skommer Island in Wales waiting for darkness. This is a good time to estimate the number of birds in the colony.

For more about the author's trip to Skommer Island see Trip
Reports. Photograph taken by Emmalee Tarry with a Cannon Powershot camera from a rocking boat.

Manx Shearwaters have good reason to only come and go from their burrows under the cover of darkness as they are heavily preyed upon by Great Black Blacked Gulls. The picture to the right shows the remains of Manx Shearwater on Skommer Island. Ponds on the island built to provide water for livestock attract the gulls.

Rarely follows ships and rarely attracted to chum. Swims and dives for food in large flocks. (Olney 2007) The author observed several Manx Shearwaters following bubble feeding whales on Stellwagen Bank.

In April of 2002, a Manx Shearwater banded in 1957 when it was approximately 5 years old, was recaptured and found to be breeding on Bardsey, an island off the Lleyn peninsula in north Wales. This means this bird was 50 years old. The reference for this record was the web page of CNN.

Dead Manx Shearwater Skommer Island EBTarry

Range Expanding to North America
The occurence of the Manx Shearwater is described in Bent's (1922) Life Histories of North American Petrels and Pelicans and Their Allies as very rare . Bent references  Lee and Haney (1996.) who report that before 1900 it was considered an accidental in the north west Atlantic. Offshore records began increasing in the 1950's and accelerated in the 1970's and 1980's .

A trip to Stellwagen Bank during the summer may see 0-20 Manx Shearwaters with some years being better than others. The Manx may be seen on the first trips of the summer and into the fall. Fluctuation in numbers is probably related to the food supply on Stellwagen Bank the destination of most trips.

Newfoundland Colony
According to Cairns et al 1987 on Middle Lawn Island just off the coast of the Burin Peninsula of Newfoundland, reference cite100 breeding pairs and at least 300 non-breeding singles. Breeding in North America on Newfoundland appears to have begun around 1977.

Matinicus Rock, Maine First US Manx Chick Fledged September 2009
On September 8th, biologists visiting Matinicus Rock discovered a fledging-age Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus). While Manx Shearwaters were first observed on the island 12 years ago, this is the first time that a chick has fledged in the United States. The young bird was found after an extesive burrow search by refuge and Audubon biologists. In 2010 up to 16 adult Manx Shearwater were observed, and there were 4 active burrows.

Does It Breed on Cape Cod and Other Questions?
Harrison 1983 reports breeding on Cape Cod and Enticott (1997) report 1-10 pairs increasing in Massachusetts. Even the new book by Olney and Scofield (2007) claims that it breeds in North America (Newfoundland, Labrador, Gulf of St. Lawrence to Gulf of Maine and Massachusetts)
But does it? There is a documented report of a nest with eggs on Penikese Island in 1973. Unless Massachusetts ornithologists are keeping the nests a secret in order to protect the birds, the bird is not breeding in Massachusetts today.

Why do we see so many in our waters?
An even better question is why do we see so many Manx Shearwaters all summer long in our waters. A northern hemisphere breeder, the Manx should be busy with its nesting during our summer. Many however seem to be hanging around our area. Perhaps these are immature birds. There is little difference in the plumage of immature birds as compared to adults.

Why are they hanging out here now when they were not here in the late 1800's.
Or maybe they were here, but without binoculars and with so many more Greater Shearwaters they went unnoticed. Few birders got out to sea in those days, but there were plenty of fishermen.

Seabrook and Revere Beach
In 2008 Manx Shearwater were reported from Seabrook Beach in New Hampshire in August . Manx Shearwaters were reported all summer from Revere Beach in 2008 and 2009.

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Bent, Arthur Cleveland (1922) Life Histories of North American Petrels and Pelicans and Their Allies: Gannet; Cormorant; Fulmar; Shearwater; Tropic-Bird; Booby; Man-O'-War-Bird

Cairns, D.K., R.D. Elliot, W. Threlfall, and W.A. Montevecchi. 1989. Researcher's Guide to Newfoundland Seabird Colonies. Memorial University of Newfoundland Occasional  Paper Biology no. 14. (Bill Montevecchi)

Enticott, Jim and Tipling, David (1997) Seabirds of the World: The Complete reference Stackpole Book, Mechanicsburg, PA

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