Sooty shearwater

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Sooty shearwater
Puffinus griseus in flight - SE Tasmania.jpg
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Subclass: Neornithes
Infraclass: Neognathae
Superorder: Neoaves
Order: Procellariiformes
Family: Procellariidae
Genus: Puffinus (disputed)
Species: "P." griseus
Binomial name
Puffinus griseus
Gmelin, 1789
Sooty Shearwater-map-localisation-fr.svg
Range of the Sooty shearwater in dark blue and breeding sites in yellow

The sooty shearwater (Puffinus griseus) is a medium-large shearwater in the seabird family Procellariidae. In New Zealand it is also known by its Māori name tītī and as muttonbird, like its relatives the wedge-tailed shearwater (P. pacificus) and the Australian short-tailed shearwater (P. tenuirostris).

It appears to be particularly closely related to the great (P. gravis) and short-tailed shearwaters, all blunt-tailed, black-billed species, but its precise relationships are obscure.[2][3][4] In any case, these three species are among the larger species of shearwater which might belong into a separate genus Ardenna.[5][6]

Description[edit]

Up close, the chocolate-coloured plumage can be appreciated

Sooty shearwaters are 40–51 cm in length with a 94–110 cm wingspan.[7] It has the typical "shearing" flight of the genus, dipping from side to side on stiff wings with few wing beats, the wingtips almost touching the water. Its flight is powerful and direct, with wings held stiff and straight, giving the impression of a very small albatross. This shearwater is identifiable by its dark plumage, which is responsible for its name. In poor viewing conditions, it looks all black, but in good light, it shows as dark chocolate-brown a silvery strip along the center of the underwing.

Usually loud, sooty shearwaters coo and croak while on the breeding grounds.

In the Atlantic, it is the only such bird, whereas in the Pacific part of its range, other all-dark large shearwaters are found. The short-tailed shearwater in particular is almost impossible to tell apart from the present species at a distance.[8]

Distribution and movements[edit]

Upper body of a bird swimming off the shore of California

Sooty shearwaters breed on small islands in the south Pacific and south Atlantic Oceans, mainly around New Zealand, the Falkland Islands, Tierra del Fuego and also in the Auckland Islands and Phillip Island off Norfolk Island. They start breeding in October, and incubate their young for about 54 days. Once the chick hatches, the parents raise their chick for 86 to 109 days.[7]

They are spectacular long-distance migrants, following a circular route,[9] traveling north up the western side of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans at the end of the nesting season in March–May, reaching subarctic waters in June–July where they cross from west to east, then returning south down the eastern side of the oceans in September–October, reaching to the breeding colonies in November. They do not migrate as a flock, but rather as single individuals, associating only opportunistically; in June 1906 for example, two were shot near Guadalupe Island off Baja California, Mexico, several weeks before the bulk of the population would pass by.[10] Likewise, the identity of numerous large dark shearwaters observed in October 2004 off Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands remains enigmatic; they might have been either sooty or short-tailed shearwaters, but neither species is generally held to pass through this region at that time.[8]

In the Atlantic Ocean, they cover distances in excess of 14,000 km (8,700 mi) from their breeding colony on the Falkland Islands (52°S 60°W) north to 60 to 70°N in the North Atlantic Ocean off north Norway; distances covered in the Pacific are similar or larger; although the Pacific Ocean colonies are not quite so far south, at 35 to 50°S off New Zealand, and moving north to the Aleutian Islands, the longitudinal width of the ocean makes longer migrations necessary. Recent tagging experiments have shown that birds breeding in New Zealand may travel 74,000 km in a year, reaching Japan, Alaska and California, averaging more than 500 km per day.[11]

In Great Britain, they move south in late August and September; with strong north and north-west winds, they may occasionally become "trapped" in the shallow, largely enclosed North Sea, and heavy passages[clarification needed] may be seen flying back north up the British east coast as they re-trace their steps back to the Atlantic over northern Scotland.

Ecology and status[edit]

A small portion of a huge flock off the shore of California, United States in September

The sooty shearwater feeds on fish and squid. They can dive up to 68 m deep for food,[11] but more commonly take surface food, in particular often following whales to catch fish disturbed by them. They will also follow fishing boats to take fish scraps thrown overboard.

They breed in huge colonies and the female lays one white egg. These shearwaters nest in burrows lined with plant material, which are visited only at night to avoid predation by large gulls.

In New Zealand, about 250,000 mutton birds are harvested for oils, food and fats each year by the native Māori.[7] Young birds just about to fledge are collected from the burrows, plucked, and often preserved in salt.

Its numbers have been declining in recent decades, and it is presently classified as near threatened by the IUCN.[1] In 2009, the harvest reported record-low catches, on average a trapping cage would yield nearly 500 birds; in 2009 the number was estimated to be closer to 40 per cage.

Numbers of breeding pairs are currently (2011) estimated at 22 million. The above harvest information cannot in any way be considered accurate, as the methods used by the Rakiura Maori to harvest chicks do not include any form of trapping cage. The methods used are the nanao which consists of tracing the burrows of the birds, digging into the tunnel and removing the chick; this occurs in the early stages of the season (1 April) and the rama (torching), which is night catching of the young birds which exit their burrows on dark rainy nights to commence fledging. The season ends on 31 May, by which time all of the birds have left on their migration. Whilst 2009 was indeed a kiaka or bad season, these occur on average every seven years, and the following two seasons, 2010 and 2011, were good years with plenty of birds.

Muttonbirding also has less impact on the wider population of titi than one may suspect, as the titi bird always returns to the same nesting site, so it is only the bird populations of the "Muttonbird Islands" themselves (a small percentage of the total breeding stock) which are impacted in any way.

Inspiration for Hitchcock's The Birds[edit]

On August 18, 1961, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported that thousands of crazed sooty shearwaters[12] were sighted on the shores of North Monterey Bay in California, regurgitating anchovies, flying into objects, and dying on the streets. The incident sparked the interest of local resident Alfred Hitchcock, along with a story about spooky bird behavior by British writer Daphne du Maurier, helping to inspire Hitchcock's 1963 thriller The Birds, a cautionary tale of nature revolting against man.[13] The film is now ranked among the American Film Institute's top 10 thrillers of the last century.

Scientists looking at the stomach contents of turtles and seabirds gathered in 1961 Monterey Bay ship surveys have found toxin-making algae were present in 79% of the plankton[14] the creatures ate. "I am pretty convinced that the birds were poisoned," says ocean environmentalist Sibel Bargu of Louisiana State University. "All the symptoms were extremely similar to later bird poisoning events in the same area."

Plankton expert Raphael Kudela of USC points to leaky septic tanks installed amid a housing boom around Monterey Bay in the early 1960s as the ultimate culprit that may have fed the toxic algae[15] "It is to some extent a natural phenomenon, and the best thing we can do is monitor for the presence of toxins, and treat impacted wildlife."

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b BirdLife International (2012). "Puffinus griseus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Austin, Jeremy J. (1996). "Molecular Phylogenetics of Puffinus Shearwaters: Preliminary Evidence from Mitochondrial Cytochrome b Gene Sequences". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 6 (1): 77–88. doi:10.1006/mpev.1996.0060. PMID 8812308. 
  3. ^ Heidrich, Petra; Amengual, José F. & Wink, Michael (1998). "Phylogenetic relationships in Mediterranean and North Atlantic shearwaters (Aves: Procellariidae) based on nucleotide sequences of mtDNA". Biochemical Systematics and Ecology 26 (2): 145–170. doi:10.1016/S0305-1978(97)00085-9. 
  4. ^ Austin, Jeremy J.; Bretagnolle, Vincent & Pasquet, Eric (2004). "A global molecular phylogeny of the small Puffinus shearwaters and implications for systematics of the Little-Audubon's Shearwater complex". Auk 121 (3): 847–864. doi:10.1642/0004-8038(2004)121[0847:AGMPOT]2.0.CO;2. 
  5. ^ Penhallurick, John & Wink, Michael (2004). "Analysis of the taxonomy and nomenclature of the Procellariiformes based on complete nucleotide sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene". Emu 104 (2): 125–147. doi:10.1071/MU01060. 
  6. ^ Rheindt, F. E. & Austin, Jeremy J. (2005). "Major analytical and conceptual shortcomings in a recent taxonomic revision of the Procellariiformes – A reply to Penhallurick and Wink (2004)". Emu 105 (2): 181–186. doi:10.1071/MU04039. 
  7. ^ a b c McGonigal, David (2008). Antarctica: Secrets of the Southern Continent. Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books. p. 220. ISBN 978-1-55407-398-6. 
  8. ^ a b VanderWerf, Eric A. (2006). "Observations on the birds of Kwajalein Atoll, including six new species records for the Marshall Islands". Micronesica 38 (2): 221–237. 
  9. ^ http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/08/060808-bird-migration.html/
  10. ^ Thayer, John E. and Bangs, Outram (1908). "The Present State of the Ornis of Guadaloupe Island". Condor 10 (3): 101–106. doi:10.2307/1360977. 
  11. ^ a b Shaffer, S.A.; Tremblay, Y.; Weimerskirch, H.; Scott, D.; Thompson, D.R.; Sagar, P.M.; Moller, H.; Taylor, G.A.; Foley, D.G.; Block, B.A. & Costa, D.P. (2006). "Migratory shearwaters integrate oceanic resources across the Pacific Ocean in an endless summer". PNAS 103 (34): 12799–12802. doi:10.1073/pnas.0603715103. PMC 1568927. PMID 16908846.  Supporting figures
  12. ^ Live Science. "Hitchcock's Crazed Birds Blamed on Toxic Algae". Livescience.com. Retrieved on 2013-04-03.
  13. ^ American Film Institute. Afi.com. Retrieved on 2013-04-03.
  14. ^ Vergano, Dan. (2011-12-28) Detroit Free Press. "Mystery of incident that inspired Hitchcock's 'The Birds' solved?" December 28, 2011. Freep.com. Retrieved on 2013-04-03.
  15. ^ Kudela, R. et al. (2005). "Harmful Algal Blooms in Coastal Upwelling Systems". Oceonography 18 (2): 184–197. doi:10.5670/oceanog.2005.53. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Bull, John L.; Farrand, John Jr.; Rayfield, Susan & National Audubon Society (1977): The Audubon Society field guide to North American birds, Eastern Region. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. ISBN 0-394-41405-5
  • Harrison, Peter (1988): Seabirds (2nd ed.). Christopher Helm, London. ISBN 0-7470-1410-8
  • Gillson, Greg (2008): Field separation of Sooty and Short-tailed Shearwaters off the west coast of North America Birding 40(2): 34–40.

External links[edit]