Photo credit: Thomas Kaiakapu, DOFAW. Photo courtesy of Kauai Seabird Habitat Conservation Plan. For more information please visit their website at

Vulnerable Fledglings Confused By Lights Can Be Taken To Shearwater Aid Stations


From April to November of every year Kauaʻi is home to the birds known as Newell’s shearwaters. The Newell’s shearwater is about 13 inches long with a black back, white breast and a wingspan that may exceed 3 feet.

Shearwaters arrive in the Hawaiian Islands after spending about six months over the eastern tropical Pacific. Over the ocean the shearwaters often skim close to the water looking for food. Webbed feet allow the birds to kick off from the ocean’s surface, and some shearwaters stay at sea for years.

After spotting prey from the air the shearwaters plunge dive into the sea to catch squid or fish which have been pushed toward the surface by schools of tuna. Due to this proximity to the prized tuna and other fish, shearwaters have long served as a valuable guide for fishermen at sea.

Shearwater Nesting On Kauai

Newell’s shearwaters come to Hawaii each year to breed. Once the birds reach their mountain nesting sites they either fix up their old burrows or dig new ones to prepare for nesting.

During the nesting season the birds arrive at their colonies at dark and then leave again before dawn. When the shearwaters are flying over the nesting colonies at night the sounds they make have been compared to mules, ghoulish laughter or even crying babies.

Saving the Shearwater Birds

In Hawaii shearwater populations have been decimated over the centuries by humans, pigs, dogs, cats and the mongoose (not yet on  Kauai). Newell’s shearwaters were thought to have gone extinct in 1931 but were then “rediscovered” in 1954.

In autumn the little fledgling Newell’s shearwaters leave their colonies and head for the sea to feed on their own for the first time. During the maiden journey to the ocean the shearwaters often become disoriented or temporarily blinded by lights and land in places where they are vulnerable.

The peak months when shearwaters become stranded and need our help are October and November. Most shearwater strandings occur during the new moon when the sky is otherwise dark. One way that all Kauai residents can help the shearwaters is by reducing any unnecessary outdoor lights.

Stranded Birds May Be Taken To Local Shearwater Aid Stations

On Kaua‘i, the public is encouraged to rescue stranded Newell’s shearwaters as well as wedge-tailed shearwaters and petrels and leave them in small, protected cages that are provided at special aid stations. These aid stations are located at Kaua‘i County Fire Departments as well as other sites where the birds are picked up each morning by wildlife biologists.

After being checked for injuries and banded, the rescued shearwaters are released along Kauai’s shoreline so they can fly out to sea. Thousands of birds are helped in this way each year. Despite these efforts the shearwater population had declined significantly in the last decade and so a renewed effort is being made to help the shearwater populations survive.

How To Rescue A Shearwater

If you find a stranded shearwater use caution when relocating the bird to the aid station. Gently grasp the bird by its folded wings and tail, and keep your hands clear of the head because the birds can occasionally bite. Place the shearwater into a ventilated box and carefully bring it to an aid station.

Never try to toss a stranded shearwater up into the air in order to encourage it to fly away.

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