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Spooky Shearwaters

Scary sounds on BirdNote!

Some early sailors, visiting remote Pacific islands, surely feared that the ungodly wailing on shore meant they had been tricked to the gates of Hell itself. In truth, they stood among courting pairs of seabirds called Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. These birds nest on islands in the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans. During courtship, pairs perform long duets of eerie wailing. For more about the Wedge-tailed Shearwater, see Related Resources below. 

Full Transcript



The Spooky Shearwaters

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote!

Imagine yourself an 18th Century sailor, rowing out from your boat at night towards a remote Pacific island. You’re heading to the island to find fresh water for the ship, only to be greeted by this frightful moaning.

[Wedge-tailed Shearwaters wailing]

Some early sailors feared this ungodly wailing meant they had been tricked ashore at the gates of Hell itself, when in truth they stood shuddering among courting pairs of seabirds called Wedge-tailed Shearwaters.

[Wedge-tailed Shearwaters wailing]

Dark, gull-sized seabirds with long, thin, tapering wings, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters nest on islands in the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans, from Hawaii to western Australia to Madagascar. Most dig burrows to nest in, two to six feet deep with a bend that allows the incubating birds to rest unseen. From dusk to midnight during courtship, pairs of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters sit facing one another on the ground, and puff up their throats to perform long duets of eerie wailing – sometimes sending spooked sailors rowing in panic back to their ship for a ration of grog.

[Wedge-tailed Shearwaters wailing]

Treat yourself to a look at a Wedge-tailed Shearwater when you come to our website, I’m Michael Stein.


Call of the Wedge-tailed Shearwaters provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Wedge-tailed Shearwater 1801 recorded by F.N. Robinson

Ambient ocean sound recorded by John Kessler

BirdNote's theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler

Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Dominic Black

© 2014 Tune In to     October 2017/2019   Narrator: Michael Stein

ID # 103105WTSH halloween-01b 

Sights & Sounds

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