The Manx Shearwater
The Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus) is a member of the shearwater family that has over twenty different species of birds amongst it. It is the most commonly sighted of the Shearwaters around our Island coasts. It is most often seen skimming along the waves in the wake of a boat or soaring below cliffs on an evening before coming in to land in the darkness to take food to their solitary young.
The birds lay a single egg in their burrow which is to be found usually in soft grassy earth on the offshore islands of Britain, away from rats and other predators of the mainland. The adults are off at sea all day and only come in at night so as to avoid predators. This technique obviously works as they are known to live for decades, with one bird that was ringed as an adult in 1951 still alive today, estimating it to be over fifty five years old.
Their wings are very slender and positioned almost at right-angles to the body when in full flight, this position lets them soar with maximum efficiency, meaning they are able to travel vast distances between feeding grounds and stay at sea for months on end.
They are generally black or dark grey on top and across the back of their wings and then white underneath with quite a long grey hooked beak. They feed on small fish such as sand eel, herring and squid, as well as scavenging from fishing boats every now and then.
The Manx Shearwaters Latin name of Puffinus puffinus is a rather misleading name as they are no relation to Puffins, who are members of the Auk family. All the Shearwaters are expansive travellers, with their exhaustive journeys often leading to their doom as they die either mid-flight or when they get to their destinations. It is not rare to see dead shearwaters washing up on the beaches in great numbers, especially in Spring when the birds have just finished their migration.
The Manx Shearwaters can be spotted around much of Britain’s coastline but particularly in West Wales/Northern Ireland and the Western Isles of Scotland where they have colonies. If you want to see the colonies then a trip to either Skokholm in Wales or Copeland of the East Coast of Northern Ireland, not far from Belfast, are the best places to go.