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Puffinus gavia - SE Tasmania.jpg
Fluttering shearwater, Puffinus gavia
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Procellariiformes
Family: Procellariidae
Genus: Puffinus
Brisson, 1760
Type species
Puffinus puffinus
Brünnich, 1764

See text


Puffinus is a genus of seabirds in the order Procellariiformes. It comprises about 20 small to medium-sized shearwaters. Two other shearwater genera are named: Calonectris, which comprises three or four large shearwaters, and Ardenna with another seven species (formerly often included within Puffinus).

Puffinus is a New Latin loanword based on the English "puffin". The original Latin term for shearwaters was usually the catchall name for sea-birds, mergus.[1] "Puffin" and its variants, such as poffin, pophyn and puffing,[2] referred to the cured carcass of the fat nestling of the shearwater, a former delicacy.[3] The original usage dates from at least 1337, but from as early as 1678 the term gradually came to be used for another, unrelated, seabird, the Atlantic puffin, an auk.[2] The current English name was first recorded in 1835 and refers to the former nesting of this species on the Isle of Man.[4]

The taxonomy of this group is the cause of much debate, and the number of recognised species varies with the source.

The species in this group are long-winged birds, dark brown or black above, and white to dark brown below. They are pelagic outside the breeding season. They are most common in temperate and cold waters.

These tubenose birds fly with stiff wings, and use a shearing flight technique to move across wave fronts with the minimum of active flight. Some small species, such as the Manx shearwater, are cruciform in flight, with their long wings held directly out from their bodies.

Many are long-distance migrants, perhaps most spectacularly the sooty and short-tailed shearwaters, which perform migrations of 14,000 km or more each year.

Puffinus shearwaters come to islands and coastal cliffs only to breed. They are nocturnal at the colonial breeding sites, preferring moonless nights to minimise predation. They nest in burrows and often give eerie contact calls on their night-time visits. They lay a single white egg.

They feed on fish, squid and similar oceanic food. Some will follow fishing boats to take scraps, notably the sooty shearwater; these species also commonly follow whales to feed on fish disturbed by them.


The genus Puffinus was introduced by the French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson in 1760 with the Manx shearwater (Puffinus puffinus) as the type species.[5][6]

Traditionally, Puffinus has been grouped with the Procellaria and Calonectris shearwaters. However, more recent results[7][8][9] have determined that the genus is apparently paraphyletic and while in part very close to Calonectris, forms a clade with the genera Pseudobulweria and Lugensa, which were formerly presumed to be gadfly petrels, and can be divided in what has been called the "Puffinus" and the "Neonectris" group after notable species; the latter has been separated as a distinct genus named Ardenna.[10][11] The former is taxonomically confusing, with species having been split and remerged in the last years.[8][9]

Galápagos shearwater, P. subalaris

Extant Species[edit]

The genus Puffinus contains the following species:[12]

Image Scientific name Common Name Distribution
Puffinus nat.JPG Puffinus nativitatis Christmas shearwater tropical Central Pacific.
Manx Shearwater.JPG Puffinus puffinus Manx shearwater north Atlantic Ocean in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, France, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, the Azores, Canary Islands, and Madeira
Ma - Puffinus yelkouan.jpg Puffinus yelkouan Yelkouan shearwater eastern and central Mediterranean.
Puffinus mauretanicus.jpg Puffinus mauretanicus Balearic shearwater Morocco and Algeria
Puffinus bryani Bryan's shearwater Hawaiian Islands
Black-vented Shearwater, Cabo San Lucas harbor, Baja California del Sur, Mexico, 25 February 2014 (12921391404).jpg Puffinus opisthomelas Black-vented shearwater Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California
Puffinus auricularis Townsend's shearwater Cerro Evermann on Isla Socorro in the Revillagigedo Islands, Mexico, though formerly present on Clarion Island and San Benedicto.
NEWELL'S SHEARWATER (4-27-2018) holo-holo boat, coast and lehua island, out of port allen, kauai co, hawaii - (2) (41352713635).jpg Puffinus newelli Newell's shearwater Hawaiian Islands
Puffinus myrtae Rapa shearwater islets of Rapa in the Austral Islands of French Polynesia
Puffinus gavia - SE Tasmania.jpg Puffinus gavia Fluttering shearwater New Zealand and migrates to Australia and the Solomon Islands.
Hutton's shearwater (DOC).jpeg Puffinus huttoni Hutton's shearwater New Zealand
Audobon's Shearwater.jpg Puffinus lherminieri Audubon's shearwater Indian Ocean north to the Arabian Sea, throughout the north-west and central Pacific, in the Caribbean, and parts of the eastern Atlantic.
Puffinus persicus Persian shearwater southern Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Somali coast across the south of the Arabian Peninsula to the Gulf of Oman, Pakistan and western India
Pétrel de Barau .jpg Puffinus bailloni Tropical shearwater or Baillon's shearwater eastern Indo-Pacific ; western Indian Ocean
Puffinus subalaris.jpg Puffinus subalaris Galápagos shearwater Galápagos Islands
Puffinus bannermani Bannerman's shearwater Volcano Islands in the Ogasawara Group to the southwest of Japan
Puffinus heinrothi Heinroth's shearwater the Bismarck Archipelago and northern Solomon Islands
Barolo Shearwater.jpg Puffinus assimilis Little shearwater Australia & New Zealand
Puffinus elegans Subantarctic shearwater Tristan da Cunha, islands of the southern Indian Ocean and New Zealand Subantarctic Islands
Puffinus baroli Barolo shearwater Azores and Canaries
Puffinus boydi Boyd's shearwater Cape Verde

Fossil record[edit]

Comparison between P. olsoni and P. puffinus

Several fossil species which became extinct long ago are also known. The proportion of larger ("Neonectris") species apparently was larger before the Pliocene, i.e. before marine mammals diversified:

  • "Puffinus" group
  • "Neonectris" group
    • Puffinus conradi (Early Miocene of Calvert County, US)
    • Puffinus cf. tenuirostris (Late Miocene/Early Pliocene of Lee Creek Mine, US)
    • Puffinus sp. 1 (Late Miocene/Early Pliocene of Lee Creek Mine, US)
    • Puffinus sp. 2 (Late Miocene/Early Pliocene of Lee Creek Mine, US)
    • Puffinus pacificoides (Pleistocene of Saint Helena, Atlantic)
  • Unassigned
    • ?Puffinus raemdonckii (Early Oligocene of Belgium) – formerly in Larus
    • Puffinus micraulax (Early Miocene of C Florida, US) – probably "Puffinus" group
    • Puffinus sp. (Early Miocene of Calvert County, US)[13]
    • Puffinus sp. (Early Pliocene of South Africa)[14]
    • Puffinus felthami (Pleistocene of W North America)
    • Puffinus kanakoffi (Pleistocene of W North America)

"Puffinus" arvernensis (Early Miocene of France) is now considered a primitive albatross of the fossil genus Plotornis.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Thompson, D'Arcy Wentworth (1918). "The Birds of Diomede". Classical Review. 32 (5/6): 92–96. doi:10.1017/S0009840X00011549. JSTOR 699721.
  2. ^ a b "Puffin". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 14 December 2014.(subscription required)
  3. ^ Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 323. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  4. ^ "Manx". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 14 December 2014.(subscription required)
  5. ^ Brisson, Mathurin Jacques (1760). Ornithologie, ou, Méthode Contenant la Division des Oiseaux en Ordres, Sections, Genres, Especes & leurs Variétés (in French and Latin). Paris: Jean-Baptiste Bauche. Vol. 1, p. 56, Vol. 6, pp. 129-130.
  6. ^ Mayr, Ernst; Cottrell, G. William, eds. (1979). Check-list of Birds of the World. Volume 1 (2nd ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. p. 89.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ a b Heidrich, Petra; Amengual, José F. & Wink, Michael (1998). "Phylogenetic relationships in Mediterranean and North Atlantic shearwaters (Aves: Procellariidae) based on nucleotide sequences of mtDNA" (PDF). Biochemical Systematics and Ecology. 26 (2): 145–170. doi:10.1016/S0305-1978(97)00085-9.
  9. ^ a b 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.
  10. ^ Penhallurick, John & Wink, Michael (2004). "Analysis of the taxonomy and nomenclature of the Procellariformes based on complete nucleotide sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene". Emu. 104 (2): 125–147. doi:10.1071/MU01060.
  11. ^ Remsen, J.V. (September 2014). "Proposal (647) to South American Classification Committee: Split Ardenna from Puffinus". South American Classification Committee. Retrieved 23 January 2016.
  12. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David (eds.). "Loons, penguins, petrels". World Bird List Version 5.4. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 23 January 2016.
  13. ^ Wetmore, Alexander (1926). "Observations on fossil birds described from the Miocene of Maryland" (PDF). Auk. 43 (4): 462–468. doi:10.2307/4075132. JSTOR 4075132.
  14. ^ Olson, Storrs L. (1985): Section X, H, 2. Procellariidae. In: Farner, D.S.; King, J.R. & Parkes, Kenneth C. (eds.): Avian Biology 8: 210–211. Academic Press, New York.

Further reading[edit]