Sooty Shearwater

Puffinus griseus



This is a large shearwater with relatively long, narrow wings and a slim, dark bill. From a distance the bird looks uniformly dark, but closer it is sooty-brown with silvery-white underwing sections (appearing like a white line in flight).


This bird lives on the open seas, rarely going near land when it is in the North Atlantic. It can sometimes be found around feeding whales or scavenging near fishing boats. Desolate islands in southern oceans are its preferred breeding territories.


When flying, this bird's wings look to sit far back on its body, angled upwards from the leading edge. It flies with skill, usually soaring low over the sea, close to waves. It does several strong wingbeats and then glides; it sometimes pulls up steeply and then flies down to resume its line of flight.


Diet includes fish such as caplins and sand eels, also squid, crustaceans and offal from vessels at sea. It scavenges near whales, picking up damaged fish, and probably also eats whale faeces.


Breeds in the southern hemisphere.


Globally speaking, this is one of the most numerous seabirds. It passes through our seas in late summer, early autumn, on its way back to their southern breeding grounds after travelling clockwise around the Atlantic Ocean. There is significant variance in numbers each year; they are sometimes seen in their hundreds off coasts.

Observation Tips

Headlands off the west and southwest coasts of Britain and Ireland are the best viewing spots, particularly when there are onshore winds. In the right season they may also be seen from vessels on the open sea.


Mostly silent while at sea, but piercing calls and screams have been reported.
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