flesh-footed shearwater

In New Zealand, flesh-footed shearwater breed on the Chicken Islands, Mercury Islands and on Karewa Island off Waihi in the Western Bay of Plenty as well as other small islands.

New Zealand birds migrate north from March until May and winter in the north Pacific Ocean where they live at sea, sometimes hundreds of kilometres from land, off the coast of Japan, around the Aleutian Islands and off the coast of Canada and Alaska. They return to New Zealand in late September to October to clean out their burrows in preparation for breeding.

Oliver records that Kawera Island is the headquarters of the flesh-footed shearwater in the Bay of Plenty. Here on the small rocky islet, tuataras, Sphenodon punctatum, often share their burrows with them.

Flesh-footed shearwater are skilled and deep divers and are thus especially susceptible to baited hooks. They tend to travel in clusters and feed in packs. “They have excellent eyesight,” says Graeme Taylor from the Department of Conservation, “and individuals spread out over a wide stretch of ocean so if one bird finds a feeding opportunity it will dive in and all the neighbouring birds, flying some way off but within eyesight, will fly to the spot. Those further away will see their nearest neighbours change direction and follow them, though they may be out of visual range of the feeding area, and, before long, many birds, from a coverage of kilometres, gather.”

The name ‘Shearwater’ arises from the use a shearing flight technique to move across wave fronts with the minimum of active flight.

— Greytown, 2006

flesh-footed shearwater
Sub Species:

Other common names:  — 

fleshy-footed petrel, big muttonbird, Lord Howe Island muttonbird, pale-footed Shearwater

Description:  — 

Native bird

46 cm., 600 g., large, bulky, all-dark shearwater, blackish-brown plumage is darkest on the head, distinguished from most other dark shearwaters by a large, dark-tipped, pale bill, flesh pink legs and feet.

Where to find:  — 

In New Zealand, found mainly in the coastal waters of the North Island and on numerous islands during the breeding season.

Illustration description: — 


Godman, Frederick du Cane, Monograph of the Petrels, 1907-1910

Gould, John, Birds of Australia, 1840-48.

Reference(s): — 


Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2000.

Oliver, W.R.B., New Zealand Birds, 1955.

Page date & version: — 


Wednesday, 4 June 2014; ver2009v1


©  2005    Narena Olliver,    new zealand birds limited,     Greytown, New Zealand.