26/06/2020
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Short-tailed Shearwater in Ireland – a new Western Palearctic species

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A shearwater washed up on the beach at Tramore Bay, Co Waterford, on Monday 22 June adds to the recent run of stunning seabirds recorded in Europe so far this summer.

The bird was in an extremely poor state when found during Monday's gale and, unfortunately, it has subsequently died while in a rehabilitation centre. At the time, it was recovered by Arlo Jacques and Adrian Allen and rested overnight. Initially, it was expected to be a Manx, but as it dried out and the true colour and pattern of the underparts became obvious, the identification turned towards it being a Balearic Shearwater.


Short-tailed Shearwater, Tramore Bay, Co Waterford, 22 June 2020 (Arlo Jacques).

Before being sent on to the experienced rehabilitation facility, some key measurements were taken. The bird was in moult and missing three inner primaries, making very accurate measurements of wing length quite difficult to assess but they exceed and thus rule out any variant of Manx and Balearic Shearwater, while falling well short for Sooty Shearwater. Critically, though the bill measurements are just at the maximum known range, a careful assessment of this character provides adequate evidence that this is in fact a Short-tailed Shearwater


The Short-tailed Shearwater in care (Adrian Allen).

Unfortunately due to the bird's very poor condition when found, rehabilitation attempts were unsuccessful and, not unexpectedly, it didn't survive. Resuscitation and rehab of such seabirds is very difficult and has a very low success rate. The corpse will now be provided to the Natural History Museum of Ireland. Feathers samples have been taken and will be sent for DNA analysis, the results of which will be provided in due course.


Despite efforts to save it, the Short-tailed Shearwater died in care (Paul Archer).


Close-up of the bill (Paul Archer).

Short-tailed Shearwater breeds in Australia and Tasmania and winters at sea in the cooler regions of the North Pacific between Alaska and Hawaii. It has long been mooted as a potential vagrant to the Western Palearctic, but separation at sea (from Sooty and Balearic Shearwater) is very difficult. There have been a number of recent records from the Eastern Seaboard of the US and recent research suggests that it is regular in the higher latitudes of the Southern Atlantic, so it seems likely that more may be found. A paper by Bob Flood and Ashley Fisher in British Birds in May 2019 drew attention to the possibility of identifying Short-tailed Shearwater in European waters and has proved truly timely.

Credit is due to Arlo and Adrian for persistence in awful weather to rescue this bird without which action there would be no story. Thanks to Killian Mullarney who was alert to the possibilities and encouraged scrutiny when it was needed and to Bob Flood for research, guidance and advice on the ID.

Written by: Paul Archer