- ORDER: Procellariiformes
- FAMILY: Procellariidae
Great Shearwaters are ocean nomads, journeying thousands of miles each year from remote South Atlantic breeding grounds to cool North Atlantic waters in the boreal summer (their nonbreeding season). They fly low over the ocean on stiff, straight wings, but arc higher and wheel steeply in strong winds. On the water, they show a strong dark-and-white contrast, with a dark cap set off by a white collar. When they take flight, they reveal brown smudges on the belly and underwings that help differentiate them from other shearwaters.More ID Info
Find This Bird
The best way to see Great Shearwaters is to go on a pelagic birding trip in the North Atlantic during the summer months. This species often comes fairly close to shore, though, so if you can’t take a pelagic trip, you still might see this shearwater on a shorter whalewatching outing. And while it’s usually rare to see any seabirds from shore in eastern North America, Great Shearwaters are occasionally seen from land during storms or unusual wind conditions.
- Pardela Capirotada (Spanish)
- Puffin majeur (French)
- Cool Facts
Great Shearwaters breed on only four small islands in the South Atlantic Ocean: Gough Island; Nightingale Island and Inaccessible Island in the Tristan da Cunha archipelago; and Kidney Island in the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas).
Despite its name, Great Shearwater is not the largest species of shearwater—that title goes to the slightly heavier and longer-winged Cory’s Shearwater.
Great Shearwaters seem to partake in a “last hurrah” before beginning their lengthy nesting season. Birds arrive at breeding sites to court and mate, but then they disappear at sea for a month to stock up on fat reserves for the months ahead before returning to land to lay eggs.
Nestling Great Shearwaters grow very large while in the nest—at one point exceeding the mass of adults by over 40%—before slimming down a bit at fledging, when they are about 20% heavier than their parents.