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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

BirdNote ® Sooty Shearwater Migration

Air Date: Week of

Sooty Shearwater flying (© Tom Grey)

The Sooty Shearwater is a seabird that travels enormous distances each year, equal to one and half times around the Earth. BirdNote®’s Michael Stein profiles these frequent fliers.


GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bruce Gellerman.


GELLERMAN: When it comes to birds, some travel near, others fly far. In this week’s BirdNote®, Michael Stein profiles some avian aviators who are racking up the frequent flier miles.

Sooty Shearwater flying (© Tom Grey)

STEIN: The annual migrations that many birds make are among nature’s greatest marvels. How stunning that a Ruby-throated Hummingbird – that weighs a mere 1/12 of an ounce – flies non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico, a distance of 500 miles.


STEIN: Or that our backyard Barn Swallows of summer retreat, in winter, as far as southern South America.


STEIN: Yet these treks pale in comparison to the yearly migration of Sooty Shearwaters.

Sooty Shearwater massive flock (© Tom Grey)


STEIN: The Sooty Shearwater is a crow-sized seabird that glides over the oceans on long, slender wings.


STEIN: Scientists attached tiny electronic tags to Sooty Shearwaters in the Pacific Ocean, then tracked the birds’ annual movements. The shearwaters flew enormous, migratory figure eights from Antarctic waters to the coastal currents off California, Alaska, and Japan – and then returned south. The yearly passage traversed 39,000 miles, a distance equal to traveling more than 1 and half times around the Earth.

Sooty Shearwater on water (© Tom Grey)


STEIN: And when you consider that the shearwaters’ migration comprises 20 to 30 million birds, the Sooty Shearwaters’ journey is not only one of the longest but likely the most spectacular of all migrations.




Bird audio provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Barn Swallow recorded by G.A. Keller. Sooty Shearwater recorded by F.N. Robinson. Ruby-throated Hummingbird wing-beats recorded by Martyn Stewart, NatureSound.org

BirdNote® - Sooty Shearwater Migration was written by Bob Sundstrom. To see a map of the Sooty Shearwater migration, click here.


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