Short-tailed Shearwater David Cook/Flickr

Short-tailed Shearwater

Did You Know?

  • Short-tailed Shearwaters travel 15,000 kilometres to the Northern Pacific Ocean when migrating
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Commonly known as the muttonbird in Australia.It is one of the most abundant seabirds in Australian waters. They migrate to Australia in enormous flocks and often a number of birds are washed up on beaches and die as a result of exhaustion, sickness and bad weather.

Dark smoky brown body with a paler coloured throat, slender bill, light brown feet, narrow wings pointed at the tip, brown to grey-brown underwing colouration (some have whitish underwings), short rounded tail, body up to 43cm long, when flying black toes extend just past tail tip.

Nests on grass and leaves, and in burrows underground.


40 – 45 cm long



Feeds on krill, small fish, crustaceans and other small marine creatures.


Occurs in large flocks. Flocks travel offshore along undulating streams to feed on seas and coastlines in masses of Victoria.


Lays one egg between November and December. Incubation for 52 - 55 days. Chick remains in nest for 94 days.

Field Guide

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What to Observe

  • Presence (alive or deceased birds)

  • Breeding

  • Calling

  • Feeding

  • Chicks

  • Bird on eggs

  • Bird on nest

  • Nest building

Climate Adaptations

Climate change is expected to significantly impact migratory birds through timing of events like migration or breeding. Responses may include arriving at their breeding grounds earlier or later as global temperatures rise. They may also start appearing in new areas as climatic events alter preferred habitat, natural resources and migration routes.

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When and Where

When To Look

  • Migrating between August and November, they return to Australia usually in the last week of September
  • Breeding occurs from October to early May
  • In summer months, it is the most common shearwater along the south and south-east coasts of Australia

Where To Look

  • South Australia, Western Australia, Victoria and Tasmania
  • Within islands, coastlines and offshore undulating streams (specifically from Recherche Island WA to Bass Strait TAS to Broughton NSW)
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What Else?

Similar Species

The Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus) is wedged tailed and flesh footed with a longer bill of 4 cm.

Wedge-tailed Shearwater (Puffinus pacificus) has broad wings and a longish wedged shaped tail that is pointed in flight.