Species Profile and Threats Database

For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Listed marine as Puffinus griseus
Listed migratory - CAMBA as Puffinus griseus, JAMBA as Puffinus griseus
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans
Other EPBC Act Plans Threat Abatement Plan 2014 for the incidental catch (or bycatch) of seabirds during oceanic longline fishing operations (Commonwealth of Australia, 2014o) [Threat Abatement Plan].
Policy Statements and Guidelines Marine bioregional plan for the Temperate East Marine Region (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2012aa) [Admin Guideline].
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
List of Migratory Species (13/07/2000) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000b) [Legislative Instrument] as Puffinus griseus.
Declaration under section 248 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of Marine Species (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000c) [Legislative Instrument] as Puffinus griseus.
Scientific name Ardenna grisea [82651]
Family Procellariidae:Procellariiformes:Aves:Chordata:Animalia
Species author (J.F. Gmelin, 1789)
Infraspecies author  
Other names Puffinus griseus [1024]
Distribution map Species Distribution Map

This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.

Illustrations Google Images

The Sooty Shearwater is a large, robust sea bird, with a wingspan up to 105 cm and a weight of up to 1 kg. The head, upper body, upper wing and tail of the Sooty Shearwater are uniformly dark brown-grey. It often appears all dark at sea, except for the under-wing. The species’ iris is dark brown, as are the legs and feet (sometimes black). There is some level of seasonal variation in colouring; however, there is no difference in colouration between the sexes (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

In Australia, the Sooty Shearwater breeds on islands off New South Wales (NSW) and Tasmania. The species occurs off the coast of south-east Queensland in small numbers and is a moderately common migrant and visitor to Victoria and South Australia (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

Global distribution

The Sooty Shearwater is found in the southern hemisphere during summer, where the species breeds around New Zealand, southern Australia and southern South America (Scofield 2002, pers. comm.). During winter (non-breeding season) most birds move to the North Pacific Ocean, but some move into the North Atlantic Ocean, or remain in the southern hemisphere (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The Sooty Shearwater occurs in New Zealand during September to May, where it is common along both the east and west coasts. On the mainland, the species breeds on headlands and islands, as far north as Three Kings Island. Further offshore it breeds on Chatham, Antipodes and Auckland Islands (Marchant & Higgins 1990; Scofield 2002, pers. comm.).

During the southern hemisphere summer, the species ranges from breeding islands south to Antarctic waters (as far as the iceberg-belt), although some remain in northern hemisphere.

The total population of the Sooty Shearwater was estimated in the 1980’s to be at least 23 million birds (Robertson & Bell 1984). Due to the gregarious and migratory nature of the species, the species is likely to exist as a single population.

Australian population

The total population occurring in Australia was estimated to be 1300-3500 breeding pairs in the mid 1990’s (Ross et al. 1996b).

The number of birds in New South Wales was estimated to be 300-500 pairs (Priddel 1996). Number of breeding pairs estimated for specific sites are as follows (Marchant & Higgins 1990):

  • Broughton Island (10);
  • Little Broughton Island (5);
  • Cabbage Tree Island (50-100, before 1976);
  • Boondelbah Island (10);
  • Bird Island (5);
  • Lion Island (8-10);
  • Bowen Island (10);
  • Montagu Island (150, in 1967-72);
  • Tollgate Island (5 in 1976).

The number of birds in Tasmania was estimated to be 1000-3000 pairs, excluding birds at Macquarie Island (Brothers et al. 1996). Some specific locations and figures for sites are as follows (Marchant & Higgins 1990):

  • Tasman Island (1000 in 1978);
  • Hippolyte Rocks (‘a few’ in 1980);
  • Courts Island (regular visitor);
  • Flat Witch Island;
  • Flat Island;
  • Breaksea Island;
  • Green Island;
  • Macquarie Island (35 colonies, 1777 nests).

Other locations

The Sooty Shearwater also breeds in New Zealand on many islands and at 10 mainland sites on the South Island (Scofield 2002, pers. comm.).

The Sooty Shearwater breeds on islands off Chile (e.g. >200 000 birds on Guafo Island) and the Falkland Islands (10 000 pairs) (Robertson & Bell 1984; Spear & Ainley 1999).

Foraging habitat

The Sooty Shearwater forages in pelagic (open ocean) sub-tropical, sub-Antarctic and Antarctic waters. The species migrates and forages in the North Pacific and Atlantic Oceans during the non-breeding season. Sooty Shearwaters may forage inshore occasionally, especially during rough weather.

In Australian waters, the Sooty Shearwater has been recorded in areas with sea surface-temperatures of 8.7-22.0 °C (Reid et al. 2002). Off southern South America, the species occupies ocean with sea-surface temperatures between 0-19 °C. In the North Pacific, the species prefers a narrower range of temperature, and birds have been found over cool waters of 8-14 °C.

Roosting and breeding habitat

The Sooty Shearwater breeds mainly on subtropical and sub-Antarctic islands, as well as on the mainland of New Zealand. Birds nest in burrows or rock crevices on coastal slopes, ridges and cliff tops, in herbfields, tussock grassland or forest. Areas with waterlogged or shallow soils and/or dense vegetation are avoided. At The Snares, Sooty Shearwaters are excluded from areas occupied by Snares Penguins (Eudyptes robustus). Nesting Sooty Shearwaters are known to impact on the vegetation surrounding nesting sites, as they undermine trees, trample seedlings and remove leaf litter and ground vegetation for nest lining (Richdale 1963).

Breeding birds roost solitarily at night, either in the burrow or on the ground near burrow entrance. Pre-breeders or failed breeders usually roost on the ground, but sometimes in burrows. Individuals often roost and ‘loaf’ offshore during the day, except when weather conditions are rough. Most birds leave the roost at dawn; although, some non-paired birds remain in burrows during day (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

Micro-habitat needed for breeding

At The Snares, the Sooty Shearwater was found to nest in high densities in tussock meadows dominated by Poa spp., where there were few roots in the soil. They were also found in high densities in Olearia forest, where there was no leaf-litter (due to leaf-litter removal by the birds for nest-building). Sooty Shearwaters were found in the lowest density in Hebe spp. and Senecio spp. scrub. At Whero and The Snares, birds prefer to dig burrows in peat more than 45 cm thick and generally avoid thin, water-logged and eroded soils (Richdale 1963).

On Solander Island, most nests are in thickets and scrub of Alpine Hebe (Hebe elliptica) and Senecio stewartiae and around the bases of tree-ferns. On Motuara Island, birds have been recorded nesting among Blackberries (Rubus spp.), Ivy (Hedera spp.) and other introduced plants and also under remnants of abandoned houses. Conversely, at Twelve Mile Bluff, the species avoids areas of introduced plants like Gorse (Ulex europaeus) and Blackberries, even Bracken (Pteridium spp.). Generally, there are few burrows in shallow, hard, stony soils, with birds favouring sandy soils.

Burrows are often overgrown and inconspicuous, but those of non-breeders often have freshly dug soil at the entrance. Burrows are not always used by the same pair each year, pairs usually nest in the same area each year. In Australia, the species often selects higher and more secluded parts of islands for nesting; although, they may burrow at the base of cliffs, or along shorelines (less than 10 m above sea level). Exposed rocks, slopes and cliff edges are required near colonies for take-off (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The Sooty Shearwater is gregarious, forming large flocks of up to 500 000 birds, or 'millions' when foraging or undertaking movements; although, these flocks may include other species of shearwaters, such as Short-tailed (Ardenna tenuirostris), Wedge-tailed (A. pacificus) and Buller's (A. bulleri) (Marchant & Higgins 1990). In Australia, the species has been recorded singly and in small flocks of up to 40 birds (Reid et al. 2002). Flocks form in breeding season and at wintering sites, to feed at sea and to gather when returning to breeding grounds (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

Breeding season

The Sooty Shearwater is a summer breeder in Australia; however, the season may appear longer due to unpaired birds and failed breeders being active longer. In southern New Zealand colonies, breeding birds arrive at the start of September, when large numbers of 'unemployed' birds (possibly both late and non-breeders) are still in the northern hemisphere. Later arriving birds appear in mid-November. At Bird Island, NSW, individuals arrive in September, come ashore in October and immediately begin cleaning out burrows.

Most eggs on Whero Island were recorded as being laid between mid-November and early December, although the earliest egg was noted on 7 November. Laying has been recorded in late November on Macquarie Island as well.

Adults and fledglings leave breeding sites in late April to early May (Marchant & Higgins 1990).


The Sooty Shearwater feeds on a wide variety of pelagic prey, including cephalopods, fish and crustaceans. Different food items make up varying proportions of the diet, depending on the season and location of the foraging individual.

Specific food items that have been recorded as consumed by the Sooty Shearwater include (Marchant & Higgins 1990; Warham 1996):

  • Crustaceans, including krill (Nyctiphanes australis, N. capensis, Thysanoessa spinifera, Euphausia lucens), copepods and amphipods (Themisto pacifica, Paracallisoma alberti, Squilla armata) and crab larvae;
  • Fish, including Pacific Saury (Cololabis saire), Three-spined Stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus), Chub Mackrel (Scomber japonicus); young Rockfishes (Helecolenus and Neosebastes), Californian Anchovy (Engraulis mordax), Sebastes spp., North Pacific Hake (Merluccius productus) and Atlantic Herring (Clupea harengus), Capelin (Mallotus villosus), Sand Lance (Ammodytes hexapterus), South African Anchovy (Engraulis capensis), Mueller’s Pearlside (Maurolicus muellerii), Hector’s Lanternfish (Lampanyctodes hectoris);
  • Cephalopods including Minimal Armhook Squid (Berryteuthis anonychus), Japetella spp., Argonauta spp, Opalescent Inshore Squid (Loligo opalescens), Gonatus spp., Boreal Clubhook Squid (Onychoteuthis borealijaponicus) and East Pacific Red Octopus (Octopus rubescens);
  • Barnacles, including Cirripedia spp. and Lepas spp;
  • Jellyfish, including Velella spp.; and
  • Bristleworms (class Polychaeta).

Foraging behaviour

The Sooty Shearwater takes most food by pursuit-plunging, pursuit-diving, surface-diving, shallow plunging, surface-seizing or hydroplaning. Observations of feeding have indicated that pursuit-plunging is the favoured method, followed by shallow plunging and surface-seizing.

When pursuit-plunging, birds dive from 3-5 m above the water surface, with wings one third extended from body and feet spread in front of the breast. Birds then strike the water with the breast and feet and propel themselves underwater by slowly flapping its wings for one minute or more, attaining depths of 60 m (Marchant & Higgins 1990; Weimerskirch & Sagar 1996). Sometimes birds will peer underwater before pursuit-diving and then submerge smoothly.

The species is known to graze on barnacles attached to floating logs. The species is known to sometimes feed in association with whales, including Grey Whales (Eschrichtius robustus) and dolphins. They may also flock and feed in association with the Black Petrel (Procellaria parkinsoni), White-headed Petrel (Pterodroma lesson), Black Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma melania), Arctic Tern (Sterna paradise) and the White-fronted Tern (S. striata).

In both the northern and southern hemispheres, feeding concentrations are often observed over thermal fronts, at edges of upwellings and at boundaries of cool and warm water-masses.

Migration patterns

The Sooty Shearwater is a trans-equatorial migrant, moving from breeding grounds around New Zealand, southern Australia and southern South America, north to the Bering Sea and North Atlantic. The species’ flight path is likely to be through the Pacific, off the Australian coast. New Zealand breeding birds probably fly directly north on a broad front towards Aleutian and Kuril Island; although, more recent data indicate that non-breeders follow a figure-of-eight route towards Peru and then to the sub-Arctic North Pacific (Marchant & Higgins 1990; Spear & Ainley 1999). The northern migration is thought to pass east of the Samoan Islands.

Birds migrating from South America probably travel up the Humboldt current as far as Peru and then either cut across the tropical Pacific Ocean, towards Arctic waters, or continues up the American west coast. The Sooty Shearwater does not penetrate as far north in the Bering Sea as Short-tailed Shearwaters (Marchant & Higgins 1990). Not all birds migrate to the northern hemisphere and the species is commonly sighted off South Africa, southern Australia, South America, Amsterdam Island and St Paul Island in winter (Marchant & Higgins 1990; Reid et al. 2002).

Timing of migration

The timing of movements is similar throughout the species’ range. Most adults depart breeding islands by the second week of April, with a few remaining until May. Chicks remain for up to a month further (late May/early June) before leaving. Birds are seen in Tongan waters in large numbers during May and are known to reach the seas east of northern Japan in late May. Peaks in numbers off Oregon (USA) have been reported in April-May and August-September, corresponding with the northern and southern migration. The Sooty Shearwater arrives in waters off Alaska in mid-June and leaves in September. Birds from South America and Australia are thought to concentrate in the Gulf of Alaska during this time (Marchant & Higgins 1990; Scofield 2002, pers. comm.).

The reported dates of return to Australia and New Zealand are similar, with some birds returning to Australian waters by early August, as they do in waters off South America. Nearly all birds return to nesting locations/islands by the last two weeks of September, in order to clean out burrows.

At sea, a standardised 10-minute count is usually employed (e.g. BIOMASS 1984; Reid et al. 2002). In order to assess burrow occupancy, the use of an infra-red 'burrowscope' (Dyer & Hill 1991) can determine whether chicks are present. Playpack of adult calls and other sounds at the burrow entrance during the nestling period was not considered to be a successful method (Hamilton 1998).

The Sooty Shearwater is very similar to the Short-tailed Shearwater (Ardenna tenuirostris). The species may also be confused with the Wedge-tailed Shearwater (A. pacificus), the Fleshy-footed Shearwater (A. carneipes) or the Great-winged Petrel (Pterodroma macroptera) (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

Studies have indicated that the following threats impact on the Sooty Shearwater (King 1984; Marchant & Higgins 1990; Ogi 1984; Scofield et al. 2001; Warham 1996):

  • By-catch in drift nets and gillnets;
  • Breeding habitat alteration/degradation (due to human activities or introduced herbivores);
  • Introduced predators in breeding habitat;
  • Muttonbirding – hunting of nesting birds, for human consumption.

Marine bioregional plans have been developed for four of Australia's marine regions - South-west, North-west, North and Temperate East. Marine Bioregional Plans will help improve the way decisions are made under the EPBC Act, particularly in relation to the protection of marine biodiversity and the sustainable use of our oceans and their resources by our marine-based industries. Marine Bioregional Plans improve our understanding of Australia's oceans by presenting a consolidated picture of the biophysical characteristics and diversity of marine life. They describe the marine environment and conservation values of each marine region, set out broad biodiversity objectives, identify regional priorities and outline strategies and actions to address these priorities. Click here for more information about marine bioregional plans.

The Sooty Shearwater has been identified as a conservation value in the Temperate East (DSEWPaC 2012aa) Marine Region. See Schedule 2 of the Temperate East Marine Bioregional Plan (DSEWPaC 2012aa) for regional advice. Maps of Biologically Important Areas have been developed for Sooty Shearwater in the Temperate East (DSEWPaC 2012aa) Marine Region and may provide additional relevant information. Go to the conservation values atlas to view the locations of these Biologically Important Areas. The "species group report card - seabirds" for the Temperate East (DSEWPaC 2012aa) Marine Region provides additional information.

The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

Threat Class Threatening Species References
Agriculture and Aquaculture:Livestock Farming and Grazing:Grazing pressures and associated habitat changes Puffinus griseus in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006wc) [Internet].
Biological Resource Use:Fishing and Harvesting Aquatic Resources:Incidental capture and drowning by longline fishing Threat Abatement Plan for the incidental catch (or by-catch) of seabirds during oceanic longline fishing operations (Environment Australia, 1998) [Threat Abatement Plan].
Biological Resource Use:Fishing and Harvesting Aquatic Resources:Mortality due to capture, entanglement/drowning in nets and fishing lines Puffinus griseus in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006wc) [Internet].
Biological Resource Use:Hunting and Collecting Terrestrial Animals:Harvesting for commercial purposes Puffinus griseus in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006wc) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or habitat degradation Oryctolagus cuniculus (Rabbit, European Rabbit) Puffinus griseus in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006wc) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation Felis catus (Cat, House Cat, Domestic Cat) Puffinus griseus in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006wc) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Predation, competition, habitat degradation and/or spread of pathogens by introduced species Puffinus griseus in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006wc) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Problematic Native Species:Competition and/or predation by birds Puffinus griseus in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006wc) [Internet].
Natural System Modifications:Natural System Modifications:Indirect and direct habitat loss due to human activities Puffinus griseus in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006wc) [Internet].

BIOMASS (Biological Investigations of Marine Antarctic and Subantarctic Systems, Working Party on Bird Ecology) (1984). Recording observations of birds at sea. BIOMASS Handbook. 18.

Brothers, N., D. Pemberton, R. Gales & I. Skira (1996). The status of seabirds in Tasmania. In: Ross, G.J.B., K. Weaver & J.C. Greig, eds. The Status of Australia's Seabirds: Proceedings of the National Seabird Workshop, Canberra, 1-2 November 1993. Page(s) 181-183. Biodiversity Group, Env. Aust., Canberra.

Dyer, P.K. & G.J.E. Hill (1991). A solution to the problem of determining the occupancy status of Wedge-tailed Shearwater Puffinus pacificus burrows. Emu. 91:20--25.

Hamilton, S. (1998). A test of burrow occupancy of Sooty Shearwaters (Puffinus griseus) using chick response to sound. Notornis. 45:64--66.

King, W.B. (1984). Incidental mortality of seabirds in gillnets in the North Pacific. In: Croxall, J.P., P.G.H. Evans & R.W. Schreiber, eds. Status and Conservation of the World's Seabirds. ICBP Technical Publication 2. Page(s) 709--715. ICBP, Cambridge, UK.

Marchant, S. & P.J. Higgins, eds. (1990). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Volume One - Ratites to Ducks. Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press.

Ogi, H. (1984). Seabird mortality incidental to the Japanese salmon gill-net fishery. In: Croxall, J.P., P.G.H. Evans & R.W. Schreiber, eds. Status and Conservation of the World's Seabirds. ICBP Technical Publication 2. Page(s) 717--721. ICBP, Cambridge, UK.

Priddel, D. (1996). The status of seabirds in New South Wales. In: Ross, G.J.B., K. Weaver & J.C. Greig, eds. The status of Australia's seabirds Proceedings of the National Seabird Workshop, Canberra, 1-2 November 1993. Page(s) 201-208. Canberra: Biodiversity Group, Environment Australia.

Reid, T.A., M.A. Hindell, D.W. Eades & M. Newman (2002). Seabird Atlas of South-east Australian Waters. Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union Monograph 4. Melbourne, Victoria: Birds Australia (R.A.O.U.).

Richdale, L.E. (1963). Biology of the Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London. 141:1--117.

Robertson, C.J.R. & B.D. Bell (1984). Seabird status and conservation in the New Zealand region. In: Croxall J.P., P.G.H. Evans & R.W. Schreiber, eds. Status and Conservation of the World's Seabirds. ICBP Technical Publication 2. Page(s) 573-586. ICBP, Cambridge, UK.

Ross, G.J.B., K. Weaver & J.C. Grieg (1996b). The Status of Australia's Seabirds: Proceedings of the National Seabird Workshop, Canberra, 1-2 November 1993. Canberra: Biodiversity Group, Environment Australia.

Scofield, P, D. Fletcher & C. Robertson (2001). Titi (Sooty Shearwaters) on Whero Island: An analysis of historic banding data using modern capture-recapture techniques. Journal of Agricultural, Biological & Environmental Statistics. 6:268--280.

Scofield, P. (2002). Personal communication.

Spear, L.B. & D.G. Ainley (1999). Migration routes of Sooty Shearwaters in the Pacific Ocean. Condor. 102:205--218.

Warham, J. (1996). The Behaviour, Population Biology and Physiology of the Petrels. London: Academic Press.

Weimerskirch, H. & P.M. Sagar (1996). Diving depths of Sooty Shearwaters Puffinus griseus. Ibis. 138:786--794.

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This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.

Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Ardenna grisea in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: Accessed Sun, 21 Sep 2014 01:35:45 +1000.