Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Great Shearwater - Ardenna gravis
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General Comments In 2010, the American Ornithologists' Union changed the common name of Greater Shearwater to Great Shearwater, matching the common name used in Europe, and making more "sense", as there is no "Lesser Shearwater" [there is a Little Shearwater]. This shearwater, like the Sooty, breeds on islands in the southern Atlantic Ocean during our winter months and makes the many thousand-mile post-breeding flight northward in our spring, to winter in waters off the United States and Canada. It is one of the reasonably common species that birders can hope to, or expect to, see on pelagic trips into the Gulf Stream during the warmer months. Unlike most other tubenoses, however, this species undergoes periodic die-offs in our waters, usually in midsummer, when dead and dying birds can be seen along the beaches.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S3N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Offshore visitor, mainly to the Gulf Stream. Generally fairly common, to occasionally common in midsummer, off Oregon and Hatteras inlets, mid-May to early Nov; peak counts from late Jul to late Aug; very rare in winter, with at least 13 records mid-Dec to mid-Feb, mostly off Cape Hatteras. From shore, rarely seen, though uncommon at Cape Hatteras Point in the latter half of May. However, there are a few huge counts for Cape Hatteras Point: 1,800 on 31 May 1970, and 700 on 1 Jun 1970. A count of 155 from Fort Macon SP (Carteret) on 18 Jun 2017 was excellent for a locale south of Cape Hatteras. Notable was one seen on a spoil island where Brown Pelicans nest in the lower Cape Fear River (Brunswick) on 17 Jun 2014. Peak counts offshore: 753, on 25 Aug 1997; 427, off Hatteras, 28 Aug 2020; 420, on 26 Jun 1984. Accidental inland, during and after hurricanes: 5, Lake Waccamaw (Columbus), 14 Sept 1974 (after Hurricane Diana).
Piedmont No records.
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips This shearwater is best seen by taking a chartered birding trip to the Gulf Stream off Oregon or Hatteras inlets. It is often missed on May trips, but most Jun and Jul trips find a few. It is regular in Aug, but it becomes iffy by mid-Aug. Numbers on a given trip are almost always much fewer than Cory's, with counts of 5 to 20 being typical.
Attribution LeGrand[2021-03-06], LeGrand[2020-10-20], LeGrand[2018-06-11]
NC Map
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