Among my favourite birds are the Shearwaters. We have three species that are seen in our waters in from summer into early fall, Great Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater and Manx Shearwater. Only the Manx Shearwaters are here to breed, though many of the bird we may not be breeders. Most Manx Shearwaters breed on islands in Northern Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but they also breed in Iceland various other places south to the Azores. A small number of Manx Shearwaters breed on islands off the southern coast of Newfoundland as well.
|Manx Shearwater (Photo: IBC)|
Breeding in the Southern Hemisphere, these birds nest in burrows on remote islands, free from mammalian predators. They visit their burrows only at night much the same way our nesting Leache's Storm Petrels do. They spend the vast majority of their lives at sea, they have no use for land except to breed. Also known as Tubenoses, Shearwaters are among several types of birds that have their nostrils encased in tube shapes structures at the bases of their bills. This is just one of the adaptations that allow Shearwaters to live their pelagic way of life. They are able to drink sea water and then excrete the salt in drops from their nostrils.
|Sooty Shearwater-Note the tubes at the base of the bill (photo: View from the Cape blog)|
Shearwaters are also built for long distance, energy efficient flight. They are easily recognizable by their quick wing beats on very stiff wings, followed by periods of gliding. At times, they cut through the air, low to the surface with a wing tip tearing through the waters edge- hence the name 'Shearwater'. They can be easily distinguished from Gulls, Jaegers and other types of seabirds based on this flight pattern. In strong winds Shearwaters can go long periods of time without needing to flap at all as they expertly ride the wind currents. Note the characteristic Shearwater flight pattern exhibited by the Manx Shearwater in the following video
The two species of Shearwaters most commonly seen off the coast of Newfoundland are Sooty and Great Shearwater. These species seem to time their arrival with the appearance of bait fish such as Capelin. If you get the timing just right you can occasionally see masses of Shearwaters feeding on Capelin just meters from land, as Capelin roll on beaches to spawn.
|Scores of Sooty Shearwaters resting offshore between feeding frenzies|
|Part of a Sooty Shearwater flock|
|Sooty Shearwaters- one feeding on Capelin|
|Sooty Shearwater feeding on Capeline|
|Sooties chasing Capelin|