Yelkouan Shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan)

/ / Birds


The Yelkouan Shearwater was first considered as a subspecies of the Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus) and has only been considered as a separate species since 2002 (1).  Following this it was split into two separate species in 2004; the Yelkouan Shearwater and the Balearic Shearwater (P. mauretanicus) (2).

Puffinus yelkouan is a medium sized shearwater, measuring 34 to 39 cm in length and having a wingspan between 78 and 90 cm (3).  They have blackish-brown upperparts and almost white under-parts and under-wings.  The tips of the under-wings and the axillary feathers (a) are dark, and there is a dark band across the secondary coverts (b) (4).  Yelkouan Shearwaters living in the west of their range are slightly larger and have a less contrasting pattern, being lighter brown above and a dirtier, brownish white underneath (3) (4).


The Yelkouan Shearwater inhabits rocky coasts, offshore islets and islands.  They are considered to be coastal, not pelagic birds (7).

Life Cycle


The Yelkouan Shearwater is endemic to the Mediterranean basin, with an estimated population of 11,300 to 54,500 pairs (8).  Precise distributions and population numbers are not well known, and it is feared that most censuses have overestimated the number of birds and the actual global population could be no more than a few thousand breeding pairs (1) (4).

Within Greece Puffinus yelkouan can be found in the eastern Aegean with groups being seen between Samos and Ikaria as well as further south towards Patmos.


Puffinus yelkouan disperses around the Mediterranean and Black Sea basins outside of the breeding season (2).


 They are gregarious (c) birds which disperse widely around the Mediterranean and Black Sea basins after breeding (2), forming small to large flocks (4).  In Greece flocks of 1000 to 2500 have been recorded during the spring migration, with a record of up to 4000 birds in one instance (5).  They hold their wings stiffly while gliding low over water, in long lines (6).


From colonies, a cacophony of raucous high-pitched cackles and howls can be heard along with a drawling, repeated “aii-ah-eech” (3) (4).


 The Yelkouan Shearwater feeds on fish, crustaceans (d) and small squid.

Conservation status

Yelkouan Shearwater numbers are in decline, and key colonies have suffered from low breeding success in recent years.  This may lead to accelerated declines when the current breeding birds reach the end of their life cycle (2).  Furthermore, tourism and urbanisation around coasts have damaged breeding habitats and create disturbances (2).

Due to this the Yelkouan Shearwater is a protected species and has been designated as a Near Threatened species by the IUCN (e) (8).  Within Europe it is listed under Annex II of the Bern Convention (f) and Annex I of the EU Birds Directive (g).


Description written by Maite Guignard (2009). Edited by Ross Atkinson (2013).

(1)   Bourgeois. K., and Vidal. E. (2007) Yelkouan shearwater nest-cavity selection and breeding success, C. R. Biologies, 330: 205-214

(2)   Bird Life International (2008) Species factsheet: Puffinus mauretanicus [online] Available: [date accessed: 07/04/2009]

(3)   Mullarney. K., Svensson. L., Zetterstrom. D., and Grant. P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide, Harper Collins Publishers, London

(4)   Jonsson. L. (1992) Birds of Europe, Christopher Helm Ltd., London

(5)   Handrinos. G., and Akriotis. T. (1997) The Birds of Greece, Christopher Helm Ltd., London

(6)   Sterry. P. (2000) Complete Mediterranean Wildlife, Harpers Collins Publishers, London

(7)   Lee. D.S. (1995) The pelagic ecology of Manx Shearwaters Puffinus puffinus off the southeastern United States of America, Marine Ornithology, 23: 107–119

(8)   IUCN (2009) IUCN Red List of Threatened Species [online] Available: [date accessed: 24/06/2009]