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 Pink-footed Shearwater

Image Credit: USGS


 Pink-footed Shearwater
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 National Marine Sanctuaries Where Pink-footed Shearwaters Can Be Found:
  Olympic Coast
Cordell Bank
Gulf of the Farallones
Monterey Bay
Channel Islands

 Related Environmental Issues:
  Point Source - Oil Spills
Overfishing
Habitat Loss
Plastics
Climate Change

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Scientific Name: Puffinus creatopus

Category: Seabirds

The pink-footed shearwaters are seabirds that have a skimming flight pattern, meaning they generally fly just a few feet above the ocean surface. They are the largest of the shearwater species and like their cousins, the sooty shearwaters, they are related to albatrosses and petrels. The Pink-footed Shearwaters live in the eastern Pacific along the west coast of North and South America and are found in the non-breeding season as far north as southern Alaska and as far south as Argentina, New Zealand, and Australia. They spend the vast majority of their life over the shallow waters of the continental shelf and come ashore only to breed. They are seldom seen from shore or over the deep mid-ocean waters.

These shearwaters are typically 50cm (18 inches) long, have broad wingspan of just over 100cm (43 inches), and are plump birds. The wings are used for gliding rather than flapping. They really have to make an effort to fly. The plumage (feather coloring) does not differ between sexes or ages of the birds, or seasonally, as in so many other sea birds. The pink-footed shearwaters are mostly brown and white with pale pink feet. The head and upper parts are brown, the underbelly is white, and its yellowish bill has a pink ring at its base. This coloring is typical of most seabirds, as predators from the air have a more difficult time seeing them against the dark ocean water below. Predators underwater, looking upward, also have a hard time seeing the white underbellies against the bright skylight. The birds also have a mottled feather pattern under their wings and along their sides to help in camouflage protection. They also have a pair of nasal tubes atop their bills.

The pink-footed shearwaters breed in colonies on three islands off the coast of Chile during December and January. One white egg is deposited in an underground burrow that is up to 2m long and about 50 days later the chicks hatch. Both parents share the incubation duties and forage in shifts. They feed the chicks irregularly and sometimes leave the chicks alone for many days at a time. They generally travel only 1km from the coast along the continental shelf to find food during the breeding season. Chicks grow slowly and once they leave the burrow, the chicks fly out to sea and are totally independent. These nesting burrows can be used for many decades and the parents remodel season after season. The breeding pairs remain together for many years. After breeding, the birds fly north toward North America in April and in late October they come back to the Chilean Islands to breed again. Sixty thousand is the estimated number in the breeding population.

The pink-footed shearwaters eat sardines, anchovies, squid and other crustaceans. They can be solitary or live in a flock of birds. They associate with other shearwater species like the sooty shearwater. When off the coast of Canada and Alaska, they feed at the oceanic edge of the continental shelf. Unfortunately this is where the longline fishing occurs. Longline fishing is when a single line has thousands of hooks attached to catch fish. This commercial fishing process may target a single fish species. By catching this fish a bycatch occurs and the pink-footed shearwater is part of the bycatch. They also tend to follow ships, which puts them in the way of these fishing processes. The birds are trying to eat what the fisheries are trying to catch. As with all seabirds, human debris trashed in the ocean causes them problems, especially the plastic rings from aluminum cans.

The main threat to the species is the changing environment on the breeding islands. Rats, cats, and dogs, as well as humans, usually account for about 20% of the loss of eggs and chicks. With the introduction of European non-native species, like rabbits, the Pink-footed Shearwater has to compete for the breeding burrows. Other large mammals, like cattle and goats, also destroy the burrows by walking on them. Oil pollution is another hazard for these birds. Habitat lost is another problem as introduced predators to these breeding islands and human settlement have destroyed much of their habitat. Humans also harvest chicks for food and many times destroy the burrows in the process.

In 1935 the breeding islands off Chile became a National Park, but real efforts to protect the pink-footed shearwater were not seriously pursued until 1967. In 2004 the Tri Lateral North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) selected the pink-footed shearwater, along with the hump back whale and the leatherback turtle, as pilot species for their conservation plan. As the Pink-footed Shearwaters have a very large migratory range, international cooperation in these conservation efforts is necessary. One of the reasons for the choice of these birds is their current decimated population levels due in part to the deferred age of the first breeding among pink-footed shearwaters (they do not breed while young adults) and the low reproductive rates (breeding pairs produce a maximum of one egg per season). These limitations make it almost impossible for them to recover from any environmental crises.




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 Sponsored by:
NASA logoNational Aeronautics and
Space Administration

(NASA Award NCC5433)
NOAA logoNational Oceanic &
Atmospheric Administration

(NOAA Award NA06SEC4690006)

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