Audubon’s shearwater (Puffinus lherminieri)

Also known as: diablotin, dusky shearwater, pimlico, wedrego
French: Puffin d'Audubon
GenusPuffinus (1)
SizeLength: 26 - 30 cm (2)
Wingspan: 69 cm (3)
Weight200 g (3)

Audubon’s shearwater is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

A majestic seabird with large, elongated wings and a streamlined body, Audubon’s shearwater (Puffinus lherminieri) is superbly adapted for gliding on thermals far out at sea. This graceful seabird has a long, thin, serrated bill with a small hook that enables it to catch and hold onto its slippery fish prey (4). Much less suited to life on land, Audubon’s shearwater has legs that are set far back on its body and provide very little support, so it moves on the ground by shuffling rather clumsily along on its breast (3).

Audubon’s shearwater has a typical shearwater colouration of dark brown upperparts and white on the sides of the face and the front of the neck (5). The belly and brown-edged under-wings are also white, with this being most conspicuous when the bird is in flight. The Audubon’s shearwater chick is a grey, downy ball of feathers (3).

Shearwaters are named for the way in which the wings, held stiff and motionless, shear the water’s surface as it glides fast and low over the waves (3) (6).

Audubon’s shearwater ranges across tropical parts of the Indian Ocean, as far north as the Arabian Sea, throughout the north-eastern and central Pacific Ocean, and the western Atlantic Ocean, including the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico (1). It nests on islands, including off the United Arab Emirates shoreline, the Seychelles, the Galapagos, some of the Caribbean islands, and the Bahamas (7).

Audubon’s shearwater breeds mainly on oceanic islands, coral atolls and rocky offshore islets, where it builds its nest on cliffs and earthen slopes. It spends the majority of its life gliding above marine environments, including both coastal and deep waters (7).

While usually solitary outside of the breeding season, Audubon’s shearwater gathers into large feeding groups in areas where its fish, squid and crustacean prey is in abundance (3) (7). By circling overhead, it targets its prey and then dives headlong into the water, using momentum to combat its buoyancy, and catches its prey in its long, serrated bill (7). As with other members of the family Procellariidae, or tubenoses, Audubon’s shearwater has a nasal salt gland, which enables it to excrete excess salt obtained from drinking salt water (3).

A colonial nesting bird, Audubon’s shearwater lays a single egg every 10 to 12 months in a cavity or burrow, to protect the young against aerial predators. During the breeding season, the male and female birds usually only emerge from the nest at night, when the risk of predation is lower. However, one population of Audubon’s shearwater on the Galapagos Islands has adapted to daytime activity while breeding to avoid predation by owls (3). The male and female birds take turns in incubating the egg, which hatches after approximately 51 days. Both adult birds collect food for the chick (3) (4). Audubon’s shearwater reaches sexual maturity at eight years of age and usually mates for life, returning to the same nesting spot year after year (3). 

The Audubon’s shearwater global population currently appears to be stable. However, as it nests on islands with few, or no native ground-dwelling predators, it is extremely vulnerable to the introduction of exotic predatory species, such as rats, which feed on the eggs and chicks of ground-nesting birds (7).

Audubon’s shearwater is also threatened by disturbance from both commercial and private boating, and in some locations in the Bahamas it is often killed for food (7).

Although there are no specific conservation measures currently targeted at Audubon’s shearwater, this seabird breeds on some islands designated as BirdLife International Important Bird Areas, which highlights the importance in protecting these areas for bird conservation. Some of these islands, such as Little Tobago Island, are protected as national parks (7).

For more information about conservation in the Emirates:

 For more information on Audubon’s shearwater and other bird species:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2010)
  2. Bond, J. (1993) Birds of the West Indies. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.
  3. Nellis, D.W. (2001) Common Coastal Birds of Florida and the Caribbean. Pineapple Press Inc, Florida.
  4. Perrins, C. (2009) The Encyclopedia of Birds. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Efe, M.A. and Musso, C.M. (March, 2001) Primeiro registro de Puffinus iherminieri Lesson, 1839 no Brasil. Nattereria, 2: 21-23
  6. Soper, M.F. (1972) New ZealandBirds. Robert Hale and Company, London, UK.
  7. BirdLife International - Audubon’s shearwater (2010)