- ORDER: Procellariiformes
- FAMILY: Procellariidae
One of the most widespread and numerous of all pelagic seabirds, the Sooty Shearwater is an unassuming, dark brown bird with silvery flashes in the underwing. With stiff wingbeats they fly low over the ocean ("shearing" the water), using wind power to glide long distances. They often pursue prey deep underwater, flapping their wings for power. Sooty Shearwaters nest in the Southern Hemisphere and migrate in vast numbers to the Northern Hemisphere, tracing a figure-8 journey that covers about 40,000 miles in a single year.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Watching the ocean from a headland or taking a pelagic birding trip are good ways to see Sooty Shearwaters. Populations are larger in the Pacific than the Atlantic, and huge flocks can sometimes be seen from shore along the California coast in fall. In the Atlantic, watch for them in spring and early summer. From a distance these brown birds can look superficially like immature gulls, so watch for their straight, stiff wings and fast, long glides low over the water.
- Pardela Sombría (Spanish)
- Puffin fuligineux (French)
- Cool Facts
- Shearwaters are masterful and efficient flyers, able to use ocean winds to travel great distances. Under optimal conditions, migrating Sooty Shearwaters may cover more than 1,000 miles in a single day.
- In addition to being expert aerialists, Sooty Shearwaters are amazing divers. They pursue fish underwater and can dive as deep as 220 feet below the surface, using their wings to propel themselves.
- Charles Darwin saw hundreds of thousands of Sooty Shearwaters massing near a breeding colony at Chiloé island, southern Chile. He later wrote in his 1839 memoir, The Voyage of the Beagle, that “When part of the flock settled on the water, the surface was blackened, and a noise proceeded from them as of human beings talking in the distance.”
- Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 horror film The Birds features a menacing flock of gulls and was set in Northern California. But part of the film’s impetus and inspiration comes from a “wreck” of Sooty Shearwaters in two Central California towns on August 18, 1961, when thousands of the birds came ashore during heavy fog.