Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Audubon's Shearwater - Puffinus lherminieri
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General Comments The Audubon's Shearwater is the smallest shearwater in our waters and, along with the Cory's, is seldom missed on pelagic trips to the Gulf Stream off Oregon and Hatteras inlets during the warmer months. Unlike the other shearwaters, it breeds on islands in tropical and subtropical zones, meaning the West Indies and the Antilles in the Caribbean Sea region. As expected, based on its breeding grounds, it seldom strays into cooler waters, being found in numbers once the Gulf Stream is reached. It reaches peak numbers in midsummer (Jul and Aug) and is often seen feeding around weed lines where Sargassum accumulates.

NOTE: There are a few North Carolina reports of Baroli's Shearwater (formerly known as the Little Shearwater) or "probable" Baroli's Shearwater. None have been accepted by the NC BRC. Nonetheless, birders should be aware of field marks of this recently-split species (i.e., the former Little Shearwater has been split into several species, with those in the north Atlantic being named the Baroli's Shearwater, as well as the very similar Boyd's Shearwater).

Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S4N
Global Rank G4G5
Coastal Plain Offshore visitor in the Gulf Stream. Generally common, mainly from mid-May to at least mid-Oct; peak numbers in Jul-Aug, though the two highest counts are not in those months. Very rare in other months, with at least one record for each of the remaining six months, though not to be considered as a permanent resident. Peak offshore counts: 2,285 offshore (port not named), 29 Sep 1979; 2,000+ (thousands), off Cape Lookout, 25 Jun 1989. Rather rarely seen from shore, mainly in Jul-Aug. Accidental well inland, during and after hurricanes: one at Quaker Neck Lake (Wayne), after Hurricane Hugo, 22 Sep 1989; one found at a ball field in Havelock (Craven), 5 Aug 1986.
Piedmont Accidental visitor. A single record: one seen at Jordan Lake, after Hurricane Fran, 6-7 Sep 1996 (Nat. Audubon Soc. Field Notes 51:40). This report has not been reviewed by the NC BRC.
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips This species is nearly a gimme on pelagic trips into the Gulf Stream in Jun, Jul, Aug, and Sep. Small numbers are typical in the last half of May and Oct, but numbers from 50 to 100 are typical from Jun to Sep, with counts of several hundred not being unusual. As mentioned above, chartered trips off Oregon and Hatteras inlets are recommended; a few Audubon's can often be seen from headboats that barely reach the Gulf Stream, but no pelagic species can be counted on during such a trip. Unlike with most other shearwaters, the species is very seldom seen from shore, and even if a small black and white shearwater is seen from shore, the odds strongly favor it being a Manx Shearwater, if you are able to even get a decent view at all.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-15], LeGrand[2021-03-06], LeGrand[2013-11-22]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.