Friday, 9 September 2016

Puffinus puffinus – Manx Shearwater Week

Every year, guests come to Skomer to take part in the ‘Shearwater experience’ and learn more about these incredible birds and their extraordinary lives out at sea, on the largest colony of Manx Shearwaters in the world. An amazing 316,000 pairs breed on Skomer, with the birds returning in early March and staying until late September. 

It all starts on the first night with a talk from the Oxford University researchers, from the Oxford Navigation Group, on the life history of Shearwaters, the historical research on these amazing navigators and also the current research being carried out by the team from Oxford.

With the help of a volunteer from the Friends of Skokholm and Skomer we then head out on a night time walk to witness the Shearwater chicks out of their burrows, practicing their wingbeats and maybe, if you’re lucky, taking their very first flight. Red lights are best for the Shearwaters and as a bonus it doesn’t hinder your night vision so if it is a clear night, the stars can be incredible too! 

As part of Shearwater Week, guests are also invited to weigh chicks with the researchers on the second day of their stay. There’s around 60 chicks to weigh and you can get as involved as you like, from carrying, weighing or even giving it a go at getting the chicks out of the burrows.

This chick still has quite a lot of down left around the neck and belly, which some people like to see as the Shearwaters trousers. 

It’s difficult to make out, but this chick weighs 455g. Adults weigh between 400-450g and chicks can weigh up to 550-600g at their heaviest! Chicks will then lose the excess weight in the build up to fledging. 

Shearwater Week guests lined up on the research colony at North Haven, ready to weigh chicks.

It’s amazing to think that some of the chicks that fledged during the first few days of Shearwater Week are now probably most of their way to their wintering grounds off the east coast of South America, 10,000km away. How do they navigate? I hear you ask. You'll have to attend next years Shearwater Week to find out. 

A special thanks to all of the guests that attended Shearwater Week, the Friends of Skokholm and Skomer and Oxford Navigation Group, especially Ollie Padget, Sarah Bond, Amaia Mendinueta and Tim Guilford. For more information on the research being carried out on Skomer Island by Oxford Navigation Group please see: 

Bookings for next year’s Shearwater Week will open on 3rd October for members of the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, and 17th October for non-members. Shearwater Week will run from 22nd August until 30th August in 2017, again as a two night stay. Contact: or 01656 724100 to book.  

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