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Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus

Audubon's Shearwater (Brian Patteson)
Photo from Brian Patteson (www.patteson.com)

At a glance

Modest sized black and white temperate shearwater

Probably the most studied species of shearwater

Northernmost breeding species of any of the shearwaters

Obligate transequatorial migrant

Known to have bread on Bermuda, but now extirpated from the region as a breeding species, occurs in region as a spring migrant



Modest sized shearwater (30-38 cm [12-15 inches] in length), black on dorsal surface, white on ventral surface. Similar, but larger than Little shearwater and Audubon’s shearwater. Several additional taxa breed in Mediterranean Sea but they are seldom, if ever, encountered in Western North Atlantic.


Filoplumes present on adults in winter and spring. Majority of adults first breed in 5th to 6th year. Maximum longevity for banded birds 32-36 years.


Fresh juvenile plumage blackish dorsally, extending below the eye on sides of head, cheeks and sides of neck mottled black and white, but overall similar to adult.

Alternative names

French: Le puffin manx, Puffin des Anglais

Spanish:  Baldritja (Balearics), Pardel Manx, Pardel pichoneta, Fardela Atlantica


The Manx Shearwater is the nominate form of a large worldwide superspecies complex of black and white shearwaters. Their taxonomic relationships are not fully resolved.  Various author have given some or all eight described forms full specific status. The two forms that breed in the Mediterranean Sea are generally regarded as subspecies of Manx Shearwaters. The nominate is the only one of these types known to occur in the western North Atlantic.

Likely locations

Western European breeding sites, in spring migration off SE Atlantic coast of North America and around Bermuda. Few reports from Caribbean Sea or Gulf of Mexico.


This is the most northern breeding species of shearwater. Breeds primarily at high latitudes in the Old World, but as of 1975 this species was discovered nesting in Martha’s Vineyard and a small colony was discovered in Newfoundland. Banded specimens collected off North America indicate that most Western North Atlantic records are of birds from breeding colonies in the British Isles. In the focus region of this website reported to have bred three times in Bermuda prior to 1905; nesting period of March to May (Bourne 1957, but see Bannerman 1959).

This shearwater is for the most part an obligate transequatorial migrant and is pelagic. After the breeding season, birds migrate south and winter off the west coast of South Africa. They migrate in a clockwise fashion in the Atlantic and may return to their breeding grounds (notably the British Isles, but other eastern Atlantic sites as well), flying northward over the western North Atlantic.

Manx shearwaters occur at sea commonly, though seasonally from Maryland northward. About 5,000 Manx Shearwaters forage over northern shelf waters (New England, Georges Bank, and the Gulf of Maine) in the summer. Off the southeast Atlantic coast they are regular migrants and some individuals over-winter.  This is a common migrant in waters around Bermuda. It is most common during the spring migration period (March through May) in the Western North Atlantic. The species is rare in upper Gulf of Mexico (off Alabama and Texas) and in the Greater Antilles (Lee 1995). Status off Northern South America unknown but probably never abundant there. Typically found over deep waters of Outer Continental Shelf.

Manx shearwater distribution


At sea

Feeds mostly on small schooling bait fish, especially Clupeiformes, but also squid and crustaceans. Has been observed making brief shallow surface dives probably to depths, although maximal depths have not been reported for this species. Usually forages solitary or in single species groups along oceanic fronts, but also seen in mixed species flocks. Often encountered feeding in association with marine mammals.

At the nest

Nest in burrows, lay single egg. Adult pairs reuse same burrow year after year. Nocturnal and vocal at nesting sites. Incubation 47-66 days, young fledge 62-76 days after hatching.

Current Population 

Total population is estimated at 300,000 pairs (Tucker and Heath 1994).

Conservation Status

Common, stable breeding populations in Eastern North Atlantic, small and newly established (mid 1970s) and expanding breeding populations in Western North Atlantic. Apparently nested in Bermuda in small numbers but that population has been extinct since 1905.

Conservation Needs

None for the greater West Indies region. It would be interesting to reintroduce this species to Bermuda. Bermuda is also a site where Audubon’s Shearwaters nested historically, but they too have long been extirpated.


Selected References

Bannermnn, D. A. 1959. Manx Shearwater. Pp. 86-100. In Birds of the British Isles. Vol. 8  (D. A. Bannerman, ed.). Oliver and Boyd, London.

Bourne, W. R. P. 1957. The breeding birds of Bermuda. Ibis 99: 94-105.

Brooke, M. 1990. The Manx Shearwater. T. and A. D. Poyser, London.

Lee, D. S. 1995. The pelagic ecology of Manx Shearwaters, Puffinus puffinus, off the Southeastern United States of America. Marine Ornithology 23: 107-119.

Lee, D. S. and J. C. Haney. 1996. Manx shearwater (Puffinus puffinus). In The Birds of North America, No. 257 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C.

Powers, K. D. 1983. Pelagic distribution of marine birds off the Northeastern United States. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-F/NEC-27.

Tucker, G. M. and M. F. Heath. 1994. Birds in Europe, their conservation status. Birdlife Conservation Series No. 3.  Birdlife International, Cambridge.

West Indian Breeding Seabird Atlas by Will Mackin and David Lee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on work at www.wicbirds.net. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.wicbirds.net.

Suggested citation:
Lee, D. S., W. A. Mackin. 2009. Manx Shearwater. West Indian Breeding Seabird Atlas <http://www.wicbirds.net/gbte.html>. Last Updated: _____. Date accessed: ______.

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