Lesser and small Shearwaters

Based on DNA analysis the smaller Puffinus shearwaters also seem to have their origin in the Northern Hemisphere. It is supposed that after an early split two groups from the ancestral shearwater stock followed their own evolutionary track. The Manx', Audubon's and Little Shearwaters forming the genus Puffinus in the Northern Hemisphere and another group, the so called 'southern' shearwaters (Brooke 2004), for which recently the generic name Ardenna has been proposed and adopted by many. The boundaries between the species of Puffinus are not so clear cut as in the southern shearwaters.
From a single ancestral stock in the former Tethys Sea (now the northern Atlantic) in times when the continents were not yet connected they may have spread over the world via the then submerged isthmus of Panama and what is now the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea.

The lesser and small shearwaters can be divided roughly in two groups:

Christmas Shearwater and related

Genus Puffinus

An ancient split from the to the complexes treated below is the all dark Christmas Shearwater. In size and structure it is very similar to the 'Manx Shearwaters'. Unlike the other lesser shearwaters it is a non-burrowing species from the Hawaiian Chain and other central Pacific islands.

  • Christmas Shearwater Puffinus nativitatis, Pacific Ocean.
  • Galápagos Shearwater Puffinus subalaris. Galapagos Is.

The assimilis and lherminieri complex

Genus Puffinus

This group embraces a number of highly variable species with a global distribution, roughly divided in a ‘lherminieri–tribe’ and the ‘assimilis-tribe’. These groups are subject to taxonomic discussion and this will sooner or later lead to a revision of the taxonomic status of the species involved. For this list Onley & Scofield (2007) forms the basis as representing recent insights, but some other recent changes are incorporated, as well as a recently discovered small shearwater form Midway (Pyle et al 2011)

  • Subantarctic Shearwater Puffinus elegans. Chatham and Antipodes Is,Tristan da Cunha Group and Gough I.
  • Little Shearwater Puffinus assimilis. A range of subspecies in all three major oceans
    • P. a. assimilis, Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands.
    • P. a. kermadecensis, Kermadec Is.
    • North Island Little Shearwater P. a. haurakiensis, off east coast North Island, New Zealand.
    • P. a. tunneyi, Amsterdam and St. Paul’s Islands and off Western Australia.
  • Macaronesian Shearwater Puffinus baroli. Azores, Desertas, Selvages, Canary Is.
  • Boyd's Shearwater P. boydi. Cape Verde Islands (sometimes treated as a ssp. of assimilis or lherminieri)
  • Audubon's Shearwater Puffinus lherminieri. A range of subspecies in all oceans:
    • Audubon’s Shearwater P. l. lhermienieri. Bahamas, West Indies.
    • P. l. loyemilleri. Caribbean south to Venezuela
    • P. l. colstoni. Aldabra.
    • P. l. nicolae. Amirantes, Sey, Maldives, Chagos Is.
    • P. l. gunax. New Hebrides.
  • Bannerman’s Shearwater P. bannermani. Bonin and Volcano Islands.
  • Arabian or Persian Shearwater P. persicus.
    • P. p. persicus Kuria Maria Is. and Socotra.
    • P. l. temptator, Comoros.
  • Tropical or Baillon's Shearwater P. bailloni.
    • P. b. bailloni Mascarene Is.
    • P. b. dichrous. Fiji, Phoenix, Marquesas, Vanuatu, amirantes, Seychelles, Maldives, Chagos, Aldabra
  • Newell’s Shearwater Puffinus newelli
    • P. n. newelli, Pacific, Hawaiian waters.
    • P. n. myrtae, Rapa Nui
  • Black-vented Shearwater Puffinus ophistomelas, eastern Pacific, Mexican and US West Coast
  • Bryan's Shearwater Puffinus bryani. Recently discovered from Midway Atoll.
  • Townsend’s Shearwater Puffinus auricularis, eastern Pacific, Mexican coast.
  • Heinroth's Shearwater Puffinus heinrothi. Bismarck Sea to Solomon Is.


Subantarctic Shearwater
Puffinus elegans. Punakaiki, New Zealand SI
Culmen: 26.0 mm; total: 68.9 mm; adult male

Macaronesian Shearwater
Puffinus baroli Lanzarote, Canary Islands
Culmen: 24.2 mm; Total: 62.0 mm; adult male.

Black-vented Shearwater Puffinus ophistomelas. Location unknown.
Culmen: 33.1 mm; total: 81.6; unsexed adult.