Hutton's shearwater

Hutton's shearwater is one of the few seabird species that has survived on the mainland of New Zealand. Although it was known to have bred elsewhere in the Kaikoura Ranges and in North Canterbury, now just two colonies remain in the Seaward Kaikoura Ranges. "These colonies are on land in the headwaters of Kowhai River and Shearwater Stream. At 1200 to 1800 metres these are some of the highest breeding seabirds in the world. The larger of these two colonies is Kowhai, at an estimated 106000 pairs; its smaller counterpart, Shearwater Stream, has around 8000 pairs. These two colonies are the last remaining of eight that were once located on these mountain ranges. After the bird was thought extinct, Shearwater Trustee Geoff Harrow rediscovered these eight in 1964. It is thought that the Hutton’s Shearwater once colonised the lower Kaikoura regions, but now the only natural remnants can be found at the tops on these mountains."

Around March each year, after the breeding season, Hutton's shearwater migrate across the Tasman to spend the winter in Australian waters. They return to their mountain breeding colonies in August. Their burrows are often still buried under snow but when it melts they relocate their burrows amongst the tussock and inside them lay a single egg. The young hatch in December and fledge during March.

During the breeding season, flocks of adult Hutton's shearwater birds gather off the Kaikoura coast where they feed on surface crustacean or dive for small fish. After dark, they fly into the colony to incubate the egg or feed the young.

In pre-European times, the titi was a sustainable food source for Maori. The birds could be preserved in a poha (kelp bag) for up to two years. If not eaten, they could also be traded amongst different Ngai Tahu Hapu. The introduction of predators and changes due to land development brought an end to the customary harvest.

"Between 2005 and 2008, a DoC coordinated project involving the Kaikoura community moved nearly 300 Hutton’s shearwater chicks from the mountain colonies to artificial burrows at a Kaikoura Peninsula site owned by the Kaikoura Charitable Trust. There, the chicks imprinted on the new site before migrating to the ocean off Western Australia. The chicks were hand-reared with a cocktail of sardines and water until they were ready leave. In 2008-2009, the first birds returned to the Peninsula proving that this project to create a third colony will work.

The Hutton’s Shearwater Charitable Trust was formed in October 2008 to encourage and promote the preservation, conservation, research, public education, and sustainable management of the Hutton’s shearwater.

— Greytown, 2010

Sub Species:

Other common names:  — 

Description:  — 

Endemic bird

36 cm., 350 g., black-brown, white underparts. Like fluttering shearwater at sea but larger, with longer bill and wings.

Where to find:  — 


Credit for the photograph: — 


Jan Hartog

Illustration description: — 

Reference(s): — 


Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2000.

Ministry for the Environment.

email: Hutton's Shearwater Charitable Trust

Page date & version: — 


Wednesday, 4 June 2014; ver2009v1


©  2010    Narena Olliver,    new zealand birds limited,     Greytown, New Zealand.