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The Short-tailed Shearwater Great Migration

Short-tailed shearwaters are one of more than 30 species of shearwaters and also one of the few migratory birds that come to Australia to breed. In mid April, Shearwaters start to emerge from their sandy burrows to migrate to Alaska.

The Short-tailed shearwater is a mid-sized migratory bird, and one of just a few that come to Australia to breed. These birds - also known as muttonbirds - travel around the world, migrating each year north from Australia up to Japan, then via Siberia to the north of Alaska. They manage this massive 16,000 km round-trip in under four weeks, all before returning the shores of Phillip Island (Millowl).

They spend their time around Australia’s southern coastline, renovating past nests and building new ones. The breeding pairs lay just one egg. In April, the adult shearwater birds begin their trip back up north to Alaska, leaving behind their young chicks to finish growing their adult feathers and learning to fly before following their migration a few weeks later.

During this time, this species and its adorable young chicks need all the help from the local community they can get.

Why do we need community action during the Short-tailed shearwater migration?

Now on their own, the chicks grow their adult feathers and start to learn how to fly. During this time of training, they often end up on roads around Phillip Island, attracted to street lights and the flat road surface - perhaps mistaking them for the moon on the water.

This is why we kindly ask residents and businesses to please turn off their outdoor lights at night and reduce speed on the roads. This can help to stop attracting young shearwaters to dangerous roads and human-inhabited areas, and help you avoid hitting one if you come across them on the road.

Should you hit a short-tailed shearwater on the road, it can also create an additional hazard for motorists. These birds are very oily, which can make the road slippery and dangerous for drivers.

Phillip Island Nature Parks is putting a dedicated team of rangers and volunteers to work, patrolling the roads and rescuing wayward birds to help minimise this risk, but we also ask that those in the community help by keeping an eye out for these birds.

The San Remo bridge lights will also be turned off on key nights from the 19th of April to the 10th of May.

How to support the migration

There are some key actions you can take to support the short-tailed shearwater migration.

Turn off your outdoor lights at night

Outdoor lights can attract young shearwaters. Turn them off to help the birds stay in nature and away from human-inhabited places, where they are more likely to get run over.

Drive carefully

Please drive more slowly than usual - speed limits will be reduced to 40 kms. Keep an eye out for birds on the roads. They often end up exploring flat areas such as roads, so be prepared to stop at short notice.

Report sick or injured wildlife

To report sick or injured wildlife on Phillip Island, contact the Nature Parks on 5951 2800 and select Option 2. This phone line is open 7.30am to 4pm daily.

If it’s after hours, call Wildlife emergency response line on (03) 8400 7300 24 hours a day, 7 days a week or use this link to report online.

Migration dates

The shearwater chicks usually begin their migration at the end of April, however this is extremely weather dependent. They wait for strong westerly winds so the exact flight times can vary.

In order to stay up to date and turn your lights off at the right time, click ‘attending’ to our Facebook event and we’ll let you know when the chicks begin to migrate.

Shearwater Flight Path

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What else can I do to help?

If you would like to get involved in protecting our short-tailed shearwater chicks from afar, you may like to purchase a digital adoption pack or physical adoption pack with soft toy from the Phillip Island Nature Parks online store.

Symbolically adopting a wild Short-­tailed Shearwater at Phillip Island means you are an official shearwater guardian. Shearwater guardians contribute to securing a brighter future for these incredible migratory seabirds by supporting scientific research and conservation efforts.

Your contribution can make a world of difference to this species.

PF Shearwater Adoption Kit5

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