Bird Species of the World's Boreal Forests


Puffinus tenuirostris
Short-tailed Shearwater


Distinguishing Features - The short-tailed shearwater, often known as the "mutton bird", is a member of a group of 60 medium to large seabirds in the family Procellaridae. This family includes species such as petrels and prions. All members of the family have tube-like nostrils on the top of their upper beak and are believed to be one of the few bird families with a well-developed sense of smell. Almost all breed in burrows and, like the albatrosses, are truly impressive oceanic fliers.

Wing span: approx. 1 metre; weight: 500 grams. Shearwaters are good swimmers and have webbed feet. Their legs are placed well back on their body and their wings are long and narrow for efficient high speed gliding. These features suit an oceanic existence so the shearwater has difficulty moving on land or taking flight in windless conditions.

Short-tailed Shearwater Habitat

The short-tailed shearwater is primarily found in the Pacific Ocean. In the summer its range extends north to the Bering Strait areas of Siberia and Alaska.


Shearwaters feed on krill, squid and fish. Their main methods of feeding are plunging into the water, pursuing underwater, surface seizing, scavenging, hydroplaning and bottom feeding. These capable swimmers are able to dive to 10 meters. Their hooked allows them to hold on to their prey.


The short-tailed shearwater was first formally described by a Dutch ornithologist, Jacob Temminck in 1835. He named it Puffinus tenuirostris (tenui - slender, rostrum - bill). The shearwater was recorded much earlier by members of Captain Cook's Third Expedition in 1778 while sailing in the Arctic Ocean. The name 'muttonbird' was first used by the early settlers on Norfolk Island, who each year harvested adult providence petrels Pterodroma solandri for food. The petrels were similar to but larger than the short-tailed shearwater. An officer in the Royal Marines called them 'the flying sheep'. Since the petrels became extinct through over-harvestation, the name 'muttonbird' has been applied to the short-tailed shearwater ever since. The common name, shearwater, is a more appropriate reference to their graceful shearing flight moving from centimetres above the water's surface to high in the sky.

Return to Top of Page

Home | Forest Capital of Canada | About Our Website |
Ontario's North (West) Forest | Boreal Forests of the World | North (West) Forest Industry |
World Links and Resources | "Forest Finder" Search Engine | Educational Resources |
What's Happening | Contacts | Site Map |