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Short-tailed shearwater migration time

Every year around 1.4 million short-tailed shearwaters (also known as biyadin or muttonbirds) migrate from the Bering Sea near Alaska back to Phillip Island (Millowl) to breed. They fly 16,000 km in less than 3 weeks!

Normally, the shearwaters' return in late September is very predictable. This breeding season they arrived on schedule, and in good numbers. However, in some of the preceding years the birds arrived back late, almost missing their opportunity to mate and lay their single egg. The reason for these delays is a mystery, but probably relates to the need to find enough prey to fuel up for their epic journey.

The Nature Parks and Victorian Ornithological Research Group (VORG) continued our long-term research into the breeding success of the birds as well as tracking their movements around the world.

So far, this breeding season is shaping up well. We recorded the second highest number of eggs laid in the artificial nesting boxes since we started this program 12 years ago. Only the 2020-2021 breeding season produced more. About 81% of those eggs successfully hatched in January and are now fluffy chicks. This bodes well for a good crop of fledglings that are due to depart our shores in late April and early May.

In December, while birds were incubating their egg, we also were able to attach 25 light-sensitive geolocator trackers, tiny recorders attached to the birds’ legs. When the birds return after their foraging and migration trips at the end of 2022, or even subsequent years, the devices will reveal the timing and position of their movements around the world. From this we hope to better understand how changing environmental conditions influence these movements, and by extension, how it influences their breeding success and the occurrence of mass mortality events.

Did you know that you can support this species by symbolically adopting a wild Short-­tailed Shearwater and becoming an official shearwater guardian? Shearwater guardians contribute to securing a brighter future for these incredible migratory seabirds by supporting scientific research and conservation efforts.

Please visit The Penguin Foundation Short-tailed Shearwater adoption page for more information.

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