Conservation status Still numerous despite declines in some nesting areas. Colonies are vulnerable to disturbance and to pollution of nearby waters.
Family Shearwaters and Petrels
Habitat Open ocean. Favors relatively warm waters, warmer than those sought by Greater Shearwater. May occur farther north off North American coast in warm-water years. At least off southern New England, may be seen from shore more often than other shearwaters. Occurs both over continental shelf and far out to sea. Nests on islands, often rocky or mountainous.
This species as a stronger flight action than most shearwaters, with slower wingbeats and prolonged glides, sometimes soaring high above waves. Nesting on islands in the Mediterranean Sea and eastern Atlantic, it regularly visits waters off the east coast of North America. Although a few get as far north as Canada, the species is most common off the southeastern states.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mainly by plunging into water from just above surface, and by seizing items while swimming. Often may feed at night. Scavenges near fishing boats; may feed in association with whales or large predatory fish, which drive schools of small fish to the surface.


One. White. Incubation is by both sexes, 52-56 days. Young: Both parents feed young, visiting at night. Eventually young is deserted and goes to sea on its own. Period from hatching to departure probably about 90 days.


Both parents feed young, visiting at night. Eventually young is deserted and goes to sea on its own. Period from hatching to departure probably about 90 days.


Mostly fish, squid, and crustaceans. Diet not well known; fish eaten include herring and sand lance. At times may feed mainly on squid. Also eats crabs and other crustaceans, and on scraps and offal around fishing boats.


Breeds in colonies on islands; on large islands, colonies may be several miles inland. Breeding season mostly from March to October. Activity in colonies mainly late afternoon to dawn; where persecuted by humans or other predators, may visit colonies only at night. In courtship, members of pair sit close together on ground, nibbling at each other's head and bill. Nest: Site is in burrow up to 3' long, or in crevice in rocks, sometimes on ground under thick scrub. Nest is simple pile of pebbles, shells.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Download Our Bird Guide App


Winters mainly off southern Africa. Breeding adults are generally near colonies from March to October, so birds seen off east coast of North America (peak numbers June to November) apparently are immatures and nonbreeders.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon

See a fully interactive migration map for over 450 bird species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

Learn more

Songs and Calls

Howling, gurgling calls heard only on breeding grounds.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.