Saving the Shearwaters

Charlotte Looker
July 1, 2021

Head of Equity James Penn recently spent a week on the Calf of Man, a small island off the coast of the Isle of Man, assisting in the annual two-week Shearwater Survey conducted by the wardens on the Calf. This involves playing a pre-recording of a Manx Shearwater call into one of the burrows they nest in on the Calf.

Shearwaters are members of a group of birds known as ‘tubenoses’, the group also includes fulmar, giant albatrosses and tiny storm petrels. The incredible Manx shearwater flies for thousands of miles to return to the same burrow every year, nesting on small islands off the west coast of Britain. Raising only one extremely fluffy chick a year. The parents wait until the cover of darkness before heading out to fish. Shearwater chicks become so big that they are not able to leave the nest – and instead, must go on a crash diet in preparation for their big journey to South America for winter. (Source: Manx Wildlife Trust)

The Manx Shearwater Is the only bird named after the Isle of Man, after the bird was first identified in the 1700s, with a large population at that time based on the Calf.

Later on, a Russian ship was wrecked near the Calf of Man, resulting in a huge infestation by escaping longtails (the local term for rats) which decimated the Shearwater population over subsequent decades. As a result, 30 years ago they were thought to be extinct on the Calf.

The Calf of Man (far) and Kitterland

Eradication of the rodent population over the past two decades has created an environment suitable for them once again, and the birds have gradually reestablished themselves. There are now thought to be perhaps as many as 600 pairs living on the Calf of Man.

James also visited Kitterland, the small island between the Calf and the mainland while he was there, conducting ringing of Herring Gull and Greater Black Backed Gull chicks.

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