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Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater

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The Great Shearwater is a large shearwater
Shearwater
Shearwaters are medium-sized long-winged seabirds. There are more than 30 species of shearwaters, a few larger ones in the genus Calonectris and many smaller species in the genus Puffinus...

 in the seabird
Seabird
Seabirds are birds that have adapted to life within the marine environment. While seabirds vary greatly in lifestyle, behaviour and physiology, they often exhibit striking convergent evolution, as the same environmental problems and feeding niches have resulted in similar adaptations...

 family Procellariidae
Procellariidae
The family Procellariidae is a group of seabirds that comprises the fulmarine petrels, the gadfly petrels, the prions, and the shearwaters. This family is part of the bird order Procellariiformes , which also includes the albatrosses, the storm-petrels, and the diving petrels.The procellariids are...

. Its relationships are unclear. It belongs in the group of large species that could be separated as genus Ardenna (Penhallurick & Wink 2004); within these, it might be allied with the other black-billed, blunt-tailed species Short-tailed Shearwater
Short-tailed Shearwater
The Short-tailed Shearwater or Slender-billed Shearwater , also called Yolla or Moonbird, and commonly known as the muttonbird in Australia, is the most abundant seabird species in Australian waters, and is one of the few Australian native birds in which the chicks are commercially harvested...

 and especially Sooty Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater
The Sooty Shearwater is a medium-large shearwater in the seabird family Procellariidae. In New Zealand it is also known by its Māori name tītī and as "muttonbird", like its relatives the Wedge-tailed Shearwater and the Australian Short-tailed Shearwater The Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus) is...

 (Austin 1996, Heidrich et al. 1998). Alternatively (Austin 1996, Austin et al. 2004), it could be a monotypic
Monotypic
In biology, a monotypic taxon is a taxonomic group with only one biological type. The term's usage differs slightly between botany and zoology. The term monotypic has a separate use in conservation biology, monotypic habitat, regarding species habitat conversion eliminating biodiversity and...

 subgenus (Ardenna sensu stricto), an Atlantic representative of the light-billed Hemipuffinus group (Pink-footed shearwater
Pink-footed Shearwater
The Pink-footed Shearwater is a species of seabird. The bird is 48 cm in size, with a 109 cm wingspan. It is polymorphic, having both darker and lighter phase populations...

 and Flesh-footed Shearwater
Flesh-footed Shearwater
The Flesh-footed Shearwater, Puffinus carneipes, is a small shearwater. Its plumage is black. It has pale pinkish feet, and a pale bill with a black tip. Together with the equally light-billed Pink-footed Shearwater, it forms the Hemipuffinus group, a superspecies which may or may not have an...

).

This species breeds on Nightingale Island
Nightingale Island
Nightingale Island is an island in the South Atlantic Ocean, 3 km² in area, part of the Tristan da Cunha group of islands. They are administered by the United Kingdom as part of the overseas territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha....

, Inaccessible Island
Inaccessible Island
Inaccessible Island is an extinct volcano, 14 km² in area, rising out of the South Atlantic Ocean 45 km southwest of Tristan da Cunha. Inaccessible Island is located at . It is part of the archipelago of Tristan da Cunha, which is part of the overseas territory of the United Kingdom,...

, Tristan da Cunha
Tristan da Cunha
Tristan da Cunha is a remote volcanic group of islands in the south Atlantic Ocean and the main island of that group. It is the most remote inhabited archipelago in the world, lying from the nearest land, South Africa, and from South America...

, and Gough Island
Gough Island
Gough Island , also known historically as Gonçalo Álvares or Diego Alvarez, is a volcanic island in the South Atlantic Ocean. It is a dependency of Tristan da Cunha and part of the British overseas territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha...

. It is one of only a few bird
Bird
Birds are feathered, winged, bipedal, endothermic , egg-laying, vertebrate animals. Around 10,000 living species and 188 families makes them the most speciose class of tetrapod vertebrates. They inhabit ecosystems across the globe, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Extant birds range in size from...

 species to migrate
Bird migration
Bird migration is the regular seasonal journey undertaken by many species of birds. Bird movements include those made in response to changes in food availability, habitat or weather. Sometimes, journeys are not termed "true migration" because they are irregular or in only one direction...

 from breeding grounds in the Southern Hemisphere
Southern Hemisphere
The Southern Hemisphere is the part of Earth that lies south of the equator. The word hemisphere literally means 'half ball' or "half sphere"...

 to the Northern Hemisphere
Northern Hemisphere
The Northern Hemisphere is the half of a planet that is north of its equator—the word hemisphere literally means “half sphere”. It is also that half of the celestial sphere north of the celestial equator...

, the normal pattern being the other way round. This shearwater nests in large colonies, laying one white egg in a small burrow or in the open grass. These nests are visited only at night to avoid predation by large gull
Gull
Gulls are birds in the family Laridae. They are most closely related to the terns and only distantly related to auks, skimmers, and more distantly to the waders...

s.

This shearwater, like the Sooty Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater
The Sooty Shearwater is a medium-large shearwater in the seabird family Procellariidae. In New Zealand it is also known by its Māori name tītī and as "muttonbird", like its relatives the Wedge-tailed Shearwater and the Australian Short-tailed Shearwater The Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus) is...

, follows a circular route, moving up the eastern seaboard of first South
South America
South America is a continent situated in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the Northern Hemisphere. The continent is also considered a subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east...

 and then North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

, before crossing the Atlantic
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

 in August. It can be quite common off the south-western coasts of Great Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

 and Ireland
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 before heading back south again, this time down the eastern littoral
Littoral
The littoral zone is that part of a sea, lake or river that is close to the shore. In coastal environments the littoral zone extends from the high water mark, which is rarely inundated, to shoreline areas that are permanently submerged. It always includes this intertidal zone and is often used to...

 of the Atlantic.


This bird has the typically "shearing" flight of the genus, dipping from side to side on stiff wings with few wingbeats, the wingtips almost touching the water. Its flight is powerful and direct, with wings held stiff and straight.

This shearwater is 43–51 cm in length with a 105–122 cm wingspan. It is identifiable by its size, dark upperparts, and underparts white except for a brown belly patch and dark shoulder markings. It has a black cap, black bill, and a white "horseshoe" on the base of the tail. The stiff flight, like a large Manx Shearwater
Manx Shearwater
The Manx Shearwater is a medium-sized shearwater in the seabird family Procellariidae. The scientific name of this species records a name shift: Manx Shearwaters were called Manks Puffins in the 17th century. Puffin is an Anglo-Norman word for the cured carcasses of nestling shearwaters...

, is also distinctive. The only other large shearwater in its range is the all-dark Sooty Shearwater.

The Great Shearwater feeds on fish
Fish
Fish are a paraphyletic group of organisms that consist of all gill-bearing aquatic vertebrate animals that lack limbs with digits. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and cartilaginous and bony fish, as well as various extinct related groups...

 and squid
Squid
Squid are cephalopods of the order Teuthida, which comprises around 300 species. Like all other cephalopods, squid have a distinct head, bilateral symmetry, a mantle, and arms. Squid, like cuttlefish, have eight arms arranged in pairs and two, usually longer, tentacles...

, which it catches from the surface or by plunge-diving. It readily follows fishing boats, where it indulges in noisy squabbles. This is a gregarious species, which can be seen in large numbers from ships or appropriate headlands. They have a piercing eeyah cry usually given when resting in groups on the water.

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