Bird GuideShearwaters and PetrelsBlack-vented Shearwater
Black-vented Shearwater
Puffinus opisthomelas

At a Glance

Most shearwaters range widely over the ocean far from land, and most of those seen off our Pacific Coast nest only in the southern hemisphere. The Black-vented Shearwater is an exception, nesting on islands off northwestern Mexico, traveling only short distances north along the California coast, and usually staying within a few miles of shore. Observers at coastal lookouts may see this bird in late fall, flying with rapid wingbeats and short glides low over the waves.
Gull-like Birds, Shearwaters and Petrels
Near Threatened
Coasts and Shorelines, Open Ocean
California, Northwest
Flap/Glide, Rapid Wingbeats

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Moves north from Baja into California's coastal waters in fall. Numbers and timing variable: when sea temperature is high, may arrive early and in large numbers. Some also may move well to south of breeding range, but southward migration poorly known.


12 1/2 -15" (32-38 cm). Small, with faster wingbeats than other western shearwaters. Very dingy around head and throat, dark under base of tail. Manx Shearwater, rare off west coast, is similar in size and flight but whiter below, especially under base of tail.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Black, Brown, White
Wing Shape
Broad, Pointed, Short, Tapered
Tail Shape
Pointed, Rounded, Wedge-shaped

Songs and Calls

Usually silent at sea.
Call Pattern
Flat, Undulating
Call Type
Hoot, Odd, Raucous, Scream


Open ocean near coast. Found closer to shore than most shearwaters, over continental shelf within a few miles of the coast. Favors warm waters at all seasons: fewer move north along California coast in years when sea surface temperature is lower. Nests on islands with enough soil for burrowing or with natural crevices in rock.



One. Dull white. Incubation probably by both sexes, as in other shearwaters; incubation period not well known.


Both parents probably feed young, by regurgitation. Development of young and age at first flight not well known, but young probably remains in nest at least 2 months.

Feeding Behavior

Forages by seizing items at or just below surface while swimming, by plunging into water from low flight, or by making shallow dives from surface. Apparently does not dive as often nor swim as well underwater as the similar Manx Shearwater.


Probably mostly fish. Diet not well known. Off southern California may eat mostly small fish, including herring and sardines. May also eat small squid, crustaceans.


Breeding behavior not well known. Nests in colonies on islands. Active around colonies only at night. Both members of pair may rest in nest burrow during daytime before egg-laying. Nest: Site is in burrow in ground, sometimes in crevice in rock. Burrow may be more than 10' long, often with turns to the side rather than straight; probably both sexes help dig burrow, as in related species. Nest chamber at end of burrow may have a few bits of plant material or may be unlined.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Numbers appear to be stable, but vulnerable to introduced cats and other predators on nesting islands.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Black-vented Shearwater. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Black-vented Shearwater

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.