Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office
Pacific Region

Endangered Species in the Pacific Islands

Newell’s Shearwater / Puffinus auricularis newelli  / ‘A‘o

Photo of ‘a‘o The Newell’s shearwater is a medium-sized shearwater measuring 12 to 14 inches with a wing span of 30-35 inches. It has a glossy black top, a white bottom, and a black bill that is sharply hooked at the tip. Its claws are well adapted for burrow excavation and climbing.
‘A‘o - Photo credit Brenda Zaun/USFWS

Habitat & Behavior:
The Newell’s shearwater or ‘a‘o is a bird of the open tropical seas and offshore waters near breeding grounds. During their nine-month breeding season from April through November, ‘a‘o nest in burrows under ferns on forested mountain slopes. These burrows are used year after year and usually by the same pair of birds. Although the ‘a‘o is capable of climbing shrubs and trees before taking flight, it needs an open downhill flight path through which it can become airborne.

The ‘a‘o primarily feeds on squid and has loud and nasal calls resembling the braying of a donkey and the call of a crow.

Past & Present:
The Newell’s shearwater was once abundant on all main Hawaiian islands. Today, the majority of these birds nest promarily in mountainous terrain between 500 to 2,300 feet on Kaua‘i. This seabird was reported to be in danger of extinction by the 1930s. The introduction of the mongoose, cat, black rat, and Norway rat may have played a primary role in the reduction of ground nesting seabirds such as the ‘a‘o and the ‘ua‘u (Hawaiian petrel).

A second threat to the ‘a‘o is its attraction to light. Increasing urbanization and the accompanying manmade lighting have resulted in substantial problems for fledgling shearwaters during their first flight to the ocean from their nesting grounds. When attracted to manmade lights, fledglings become confused and often fly into utility wires, poles, trees, and buildings and fall to the ground. Between 1978 and 2007, more than 30,000 Newell’s shearwaters were picked up by island residents from Kaua‘i’s highways, athletic fields, and hotel grounds.

Conservation Efforts:
Predator control in key habitat areas, the establishment of Bird Salvage-Aid Stations, translocation, and light attraction studies have been initiated to help save the Newell’s shearwater. Outreach to Kaua‘i’s local community has resulted in people picking up and bringing them to aid stations for care and release, giving the seabirds a chance to live.

The Newell’s shearwater was listed as an threatened species by the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1975. The Hawaiian petrel and Newell’s shearwater recovery plan was published in 1983.


Last updated: September 20, 2012
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