As summer starts to turn to autumn, most of our summer visitors are beginning to head back to their wintering grounds. One of these, the Manx Shearwater, a bird more often seen at sea, and very rarely on land undertakes a flight that will see it move down the west coast of Africa before crossing the Atlantic to spend mid-winter off the coast of Brazil. If Manx Shearwater is one of your ‘wanted birds to see,’ the summer months are the time to catch up with it. A boat trip around a known colony (i.e. Rum in Scotland or Skomer in Wales) gives the best chance.
The elderly bird
Manx Shearwaters are actually known to be the longest living birds in Britain, the oldest being 50 years, 11 months and 21 days old. It was ringed on 17 May 1957 on Bardsey Island, Gwynedd and was last seen on the same island on 8 May 2008, when it was caught by a ringer. Manx Shearwater was first recorded in the UK in 1668, and has been breeding here for 347 years!
Breeding in the west
All of the known colonies of Manx Shearwaters in Britain are on the west coast, with the east coast only seeing passing birds on a sea-watch in spring or autumn. The largest colonies are based on Skomer, Rum and the Isles of Scilly.
Interesting Ring Recoveries
Manx Shearwaters winter on the east coast of South America, but there have been some interesting ring recoveries of birds, including one bird that was found dead on the south coast of Australia, 16,675km from its ringing site on Skomer Island, Dyfed, where it had been ringed as a fledgling 1 year, 2 months and 13 days earlier.
Manx Shearwater colonies tend to be located on steep grassy slopes, where burrows have been formed by rabbits. When not out at sea feeding, they will hide away in their burrows for most of the day, until night falls when they will head out to sea. Manx Shearwaters don’t like coming to land until it is dark and will form ‘rafts’ offshore where they will wait until it is very dark before returning to the burrows.