Short-tailed Shearwaters Puffinus tenuirostris

The Short-tailed Shearwater, Puffinus tenuirostris, Yolla or Moonbird, 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. The chicks are caught in nets then the bird is placed in boiling water for a few seconds.

Short-tailed Shearwater

In New Zealand the Sooty Shearwater is the local ‘muttonbird‘, and other harvested petrel species, such as the Wedge-tailed Shearwater, may be known as muttonbirds elsewhere.

This species appears to be related to the New Zealand muttonbird and the Great Shearwater, all blunt-tailed, black-billed species, but its precise relationships are obscure (Austin, 1996; Austin et al., 2004). These are among the larger species of shearwater which might belong into a separate genus, Ardenna (Penhallurick and Wink, 2004).

Distribution / Breeding

It is a migratory species that breeds mainly on small islands in Bass Strait and Tasmania and migrates to the Northern Hemisphere for the boreal summer.

Each parent feeds the single chick for 2–3 days and then leaves for up to three weeks in search of food. These foraging trips can cover a distance of 15,000 km (9,300 mi) and mean the chick may be left unattended for over a week.

When the chicks fledge they weigh around 900 g (2 lb), and may be heavier than their parents. In Tasmania, and especially on the muttonbird islands of the Furneaux Group, the chicks are harvested at this time for food and oil.

Each austral (Southern Hemisphere) winter, the Shearwaters migrate to the seas off the Aleutian Islands and Kamchatka. In the austral spring, they travel down the coast of California before crossing the Pacific back to Australia.

Fledgling
Short-tailed Shearwater (Puffinus tenuirostris)
Photo of author

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