Manx Shearwater

Irish Name: Cánóg dhubh
Scientific name: Puffinus puffinus
Bird Family: Tubenoses
Conservation status


Summer visitor to all coasts from March to August.


A black and white seabird, black above and white below. Long narrow wings, which are used for gliding low over waves, with hardly a wing beat employed to aid flight. Characteristic switchback flight action with bird banking over waves, which it employs for lift, showing black and then white, then black and so on. Straight bill with hooked tip and tube-shaped nostrils on the upper mandible, giving distinctive bill shape if seen at close range. Nostrils used to excrete salt. Confusion with other seabirds unlikely. Confusion with other species of rare shearwater, which are sometimes found in Irish water in good numbers, possible in the late summer.


Calls at colonies. Eerie, loud, raucous, chuckling or cackling "sgaga-cack-cack-cack", rising and descending with frequent high-pitched "hyterical" notes. Silent when at sea


Taken from the sea by diving. Small fish, plankton, molluscs and crustaceans.


Spends most of its life at sea and only comes to land in the breeding season, which is protracted, through the summer. Mostly breeds on uninhabited off-shore islands, largely free from mammalian predators, often in huge numbers. Breeds underground in burrows and will only return to colonies on dark, moonless nights. Manx Shearwaters cannot walk on land and can only drag themselves over the ground and into their burrows, making them vulnerable to gull predation. In Ireland, the largest colonies are found in Co. Kerry, with the Blasket Islands having the greatest numbers. Colonies are also found on the east coast, on the Saltees off Co. Wexford and Copeland Island, Co. Down. Birds at sea could also be from British colonies, Britain has 90% of the world population, with large colonies on Rhum in Scotland, as well as on the Pembrokeshire Islands.


Winters at sea in the South Atlantic off South America.

Monitored by

Breeding seabirds are monitored through surveys carried out every 15-20 years, the last was Seabird 2000, which was undertaken between 1998 & 2002

Blog posts about this bird

Birds of Prey

King of the Ring - Ireland's record-breaking birds

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) recently published the ‘2020 Ringing Report’, detailing all of the birds ringed in Ireland and Britain up to the end of last year. Included in this is an update to the ‘longevity list’, i.e. the individuals of each species which have lived the longest. This always makes for fascinating reading, to see what ringed individuals bucked the trend by outliving their counterparts. Some birds can live a lot longer than you might think! See below for more on the Irish record-breakers, including one bird that is the oldest of its species seen by our staff this summer.  

Click here to read the full longevity list up to the end of 2020, on the BTO website.

  Ringing birds, by people who are appropriately trained and licensed, is a valuable way to learn about the lifespan of birds, their annual survival rates, migratory movements and dispersal, and how individuals use a certain area. All of these things vary by species, by location (e.g. Irish birds might do something different to English birds of the same species) and by time, and changes to weather patterns, loss of prey or food supplies, or destruction of habitat might cause these to change, which we can again measure through ringing. Ringing involves fitting a bird with a small lightweight metal and/or plastic ring with a unique code on it, so that specific individual is recognisable in the future and we know exactly where it has been in the past, and when it was in that place. There are around 100 bird ringers on the island of Ireland, and all sorts of species are ringed here, from Robins to Ravens, Blackbirds to Brent Geese, Coal Tits to Cuckoos, Siskins to Swifts, and everything in between. If you’re interested to find out more about ringing see this link on the BTO website, and we’ve also been running a regular feature in our BirdWatch Ireland membership magazine ‘Wings’ to highlight ringing projects currently running in Ireland, so check that out too!  

Irish birds on the Longevity List

Over the years, many birds either ringed in Ireland, or ringed elsewhere and found in Ireland, have taken pride of place on the ringing list. Some have fallen from the top spot over time, including a Manx Shearwater from the Copeland Islands in Northern Ireland, which was the oldest known living wild bird in the world when it was re-trapped by ringers in 2003, 50 years since being ringed as an adult, making it at least 55 years old when it was caught in 2003! You can read more about Manx Shearwater ringing on the Copeland Islands in this recent article from our Wings magazine here. See below for seven Irish birds currently ranked as the oldest of their species in Britain and Ireland, and we’ve got one to add to the list from our conservation work this summer….  

Greenland White-fronted Goose

A white-front ringed on the North Slob in Wexford in 1985, was shot in Iceland in 2004, making it 18 years and 10 months old!  


A Shag ringed on Great Saltee in Wexford as a chick in 1977 subsequently washed up on the beach at Greystones in Wicklow in 2007, making it a whopping 29 years and 11 months old!   wood-sandpiper-walking-on-rock

Wood Sandpiper

The Wood Sandpiper is a scarce passage migrant in Ireland, meaning they move through on migration in the autumn. A Wood Sandpiper caught on the Shannon Estuary in Limerick in 1974 was subsequently caught by another ringer in Belgium, 922km away and almost 8 years later. Some species that aren’t particularly common in Britain and Ireland might have a larger maximum lifespan recorded through ringing schemes elsewhere, but the examples here are the oldest individuals in Britain and Ireland for each species!  

Stock Dove

This increasingly-scarce pigeon species has a well-established breeding population on the Copeland Islands in Down. One bird caught in 1953 was found a mere 10km away on the mainland, 9 years and 2 months later!   short-eared-owl-flying-low-over-grassland

Short-eared Owl

A Short-eared Owl, ringed as nestling in the Forest of Balloch in South Ayrshire in Scotland was unfortunately shot in Cork, at 6 years and 8 months of age. It was originally ringed in May 1956 and met it’s untimely death in January 1963.  


Many people are a bit surprised that species such as Rooks are ringed and studied, but we can learn a lot about bird behaviour and environmental change by looking at our most common species. A Rook chick ringed in May 1982 in Castlewellan in Down was found dead 7km away. That mightn’t surprise you, as they can move around a bit and 7km isn’t too far as the Rook flies. The surprising bit though, is that it was exactly 22 years and 11 months since it was ringed!

Dipper Next time you see a Dipper, happily bobbing away on a rock in a stream near you, this might make you wonder how long it has been using that same rock! A Dipper ringed as a chick in April 2008 under a bridge in Laois was caught by the ringer again 8 years and 9 months later! We have our own distinct subspecies of Dipper in Ireland, so research into this species in Ireland is particularly valuable and important.  

And in 2021, a record-breaking Roseate Tern!

Ireland has the two largest Roseate Tern colonies in Europe, Rockabill in Dublin and Lady’s Island in Wexford, accounting for over 90% of Roseate Terns in north-west Europe. Ringing has been a really important tool for the conservation work by BirdWatch Ireland and the National Parks and Wildlife Service at both colonies, helping to monitor the progress of each bird as they grow as a chick, and when they return as an adult. Because such a large proportion of the Roseate Terns at both colonies are ringed, we have a really good insight into the average age of the population, and in most years we record a few birds in their late teens or early twenties. Not bad for something the size of a Blackbird, that migrates to and from West Africa every year! This summer, one of our Rockabill Wardens Alex Fink, spotted a Roseate Tern that had been ringed in July 1993, making it 28 years old and the oldest Roseate on record in this part of the world! The majority of breeding Roseate Terns are 3-7 years old, so this bird has done extremely well for itself, and depending on how successfully it has been breeding over the years, and how successful its offspring have been, it might even be a great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent!  

For more details on the oldest ringed birds in Britain and Ireland, see the BTO website here.

For more information about ringing projects in Ireland, see our regular ‘Ringing Tales’ feature in our Wings membership magazine. Click here to see about becoming a member.


If you find a bird with a ring and need help to report it and find where and when it came from, email us here with as many details as you can provide, particularly the code on the ring.


Grounded Manx Shearwaters need a helping hand

BirdWatch Ireland would like to appeal to people living near the coast to be on the lookout for unusual black and white birds that might turn up on roadsides, in fields or gardens at this time of year. Poor weather and artificial light along the coast often cause Manx Shearwaters, a pelagic seabird, to get stranded inland at this time of year and they’ll need a bit of help to get back to the sea.   Manx Shearwaters are around the size of a Jackdaw, weighing 300-500g with a three-foot wingspan. They have a long slim body with webbed feet, and a narrow bill with a hooked tip and tube-shaped nostrils on top. You can read more about them on our website here.  
A Manx Shearwater (Laurie Campbell).
  Ireland is home to tens of thousands of nesting Manx Shearwaters every summer, with large colonies nesting on offshore islands such as the Blaskets in Kerry, the Saltees off Wexford and Copeland Island in Down, and smaller colonies of hundreds and thousands of birds elsewhere along the west coast. As well as that, hundreds of thousands of ‘Manxies’ from colonies in Wales and Scotland move along the Irish coast each autumn, as they migrate south for the winter. They’re a long-winged bird, related to the Albatrosses, and at this time of year they’re headed for the coast of Argentina. That’s an 11,000km journey that they’ll make in 21 days or less to reach the productive feeding grounds in the South Atlantic, where they’ll remain until next spring before heading north again, and returning to the exact same burrow as the year before. The more experienced birds make this epic journey with relative ease, but some fledglings will stumble at the first step, end up flying overland and becoming ‘grounded’. These groundings tend to happen where there is artificial lights from coastal villages and houses and some Shearwaters can end up stuck a few kilometres inland. Because they’re a diving species, their feet are set quite far back on their body, and though their long narrow wings make gliding over the sea very easy for them, they’re really not well-equipped to take off from land. When leaving their colonies they need a bit of a slope and an open area, essentially creating a runway, from which they can eventually take off. If they crash land on a road or in a garden, they won’t be able to gain lift and will be stuck there, making them vulnerable to car collisions, predation by cats, dogs, foxes, or even if they avoid all of that they could still die from dehydration or starvation.  
A grounded Manx Shearwater, killed by a car collision, in Kerry (Jill Crosher).
  Researchers in Scotland studying Manx Shearwaters have shown that they are more likely to be grounded during new moon phases. This might be because, in the absence of moonlight, artificial light from the shore is more impactful and distracting. It has also been shown that juvenile Manxies prefer not to fledge around the full moon, where the bright light might make them more vulnerable to predation, so there are more juveniles taking flight for the first time during moonless nights. As well as the effect of the moon, strong onshore winds blowing in the direction of light pollution on the coast will increase grounding events, and similarly misty and foggy nights with poor visibility make them more likely too. This isn’t just a problem for our Manx Shearwaters but is known to happen with other species of Shearwater and Petrel elsewhere around the world.   manx-shearwater-taking-off-over-water
Manx Shearwater at sea (John Fox).
  So, what do you do if you find a Manx Shearwater on the ground somewhere? Firstly, get your hands around its wings and body, so that it can’t flap and hurt itself, pick it up and put it in a box. It won’t need any food or water – its parents will have made sure it has significant fat reserves before it fledged. Just keep it in a quiet room until nightfall, when you can release it back at sea. Because they’re so poorly equipped to land and take off from the ground, it’s best to release them at night so that they can take off without fear of attack from species such as Gulls. For the same reason, they nest in burrows and though they fly and feed during the day they only return to the nest site under cover of darkness. In the majority of cases the bird isn’t injured, but rather just isn’t able to take off. In the unlikely event that you find a Manx Shearwater with an obvious injury, contact your nearest wildlife vet or rehabilitator. You can find a list of contacts on Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland ‘s ‘Irish Wildlife Matters’ website here.  
Manx Shearwater - note how far back on the body the legs are. (Brian Burke)
  If you do find a Manx Shearwater, it’s worth checking their legs to see if they’ve been ringed. If you find one with a ring, make note of all of the details and get in touch with us. Copeland Bird Observatory in county Down has a long-running ringing study of Manx Shearwaters, which you can read about in the latest issue of our ‘Wings’ magazine. For a time, the oldest known wild bird in the world was a 55-year old Manx Shearwater from Copeland Island, and birds from the colony have been found in America, Brazil, Argentina and South Africa, as well as in various UK colonies such as Skokholm and Skomer which run similar ringing studies. They first nest at 5 years old, with a typical lifespan of 15 years on average, though it’s not uncommon for them to live into their 30’s and several Manx Shearwaters over 50 years of age have been recorded. With that in mind, and in the words of the West Kerry (Corca Dhuibhne) branch of BirdWatch Ireland in a recent article in The Kerryman, “ by helping one bird you might help dozens of generations of shearwaters yet to come.”  
  To read more about Manx Shearwaters, see the article below about the long-running ringing study of the species at Copeland Island Bird Observatory in Northern Ireland. This piece appears in the Autumn 2021 of our 'Wings' magazine, which all members receive. To become a BirdWatch Ireland  member and see what else you're missing, follow the link here.   

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