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The Short-tailed Shearwater Great Migration


The Short-tailed shearwater is a mid-sized migratory bird, and one of just a few that come to Australia to breed. These birds - also known as muttonbirds - travel around the world, migrating each year north from Australia up to Japan, then via Siberia to the north of Alaska. They manage this massive 16,000 km round-trip in under four weeks, all before returning to our shores.

They spend their time around Australia’s southern coastline, renovating past nests and building new ones. The breeding pairs lay just one egg. In April, the adult shearwater birds begin their trip back up north to Alaska, leaving behind their young chicks to finish growing their adult feathers and learning to fly before following their migration a few weeks later.

During this time, this species and its adorable young chicks need all the help from the community they can get.

For more facts about the species, have a read of our ‘Short-tailed Shearwater Nature Note’. 

Why do we need community action during the Short-tailed shearwater migration?

Now on their own, the chicks grow their adult feathers and start to learn how to fly. During this time of training, they often end up on roads around Phillip Island, attracted to street lights and the flat road surface - perhaps mistaking them for the moon on the water.

This is why we kindly ask residents and businesses to please turn off their outdoor lights at night and reduce speed on the roads. This can help to stop attracting young shearwaters to dangerous roads and human-inhabited areas, and help you avoid hitting one if you come across them on the road.

Should you hit a short-tailed shearwater on the road, it can also create an additional hazard for motorists. These birds are very oily, which can make the road slippery and dangerous for drivers.

Phillip Island Nature Parks is putting a dedicated team of rangers and volunteers to work, patrolling the roads and rescuing wayward birds to help minimise this risk, but we also ask that those in the community help by keeping an eye out for these birds.

The San Remo bridge lights will also be turned off on key nights from the 19th of April to the 10th of May.

How to support the migration

There are three key actions you can take to support the short-tailed shearwater migration.

Turn off your outdoor lights at night

Outdoor lights can attract young shearwaters. Turn them off to help the birds stay in nature and away from human-inhabited places, where they are more likely to get run over.

Drive carefully

Drive more slowly than usual - speed limits will be reduced to 40 kms. Keep an eye out for birds on the roads. They often end up exploring flat areas such as roads, so be prepared to stop at short notice.

Report sick or injured wildlife

To report sick or injured wildlife on Phillip Island, contact the Nature Parks on 5951 2800 and select Option 2. This phone line is open 7.30am to 4pm daily.

If it’s after hours, call Wildlife emergency response line on (03) 8400 7300 24 hours a day, 7 days a week or use this link to report online.

Migration dates 

The shearwater chicks usually begin their migration at the end of April, however this is extremely weather dependent. They wait for strong westerly winds so the exact flight times can vary. 

In order to stay up to date and turn your lights off at the right time, click ‘attending’ to our Facebook event and we’ll let you know when the chicks begin to migrate.

Shearwater Flight Path

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What can I do as a business owner?

Phillip Island businesses can get involved in protecting our short-tailed shearwater chicks by turning their business lights off at night.

Make sure your staff are aware of the migration, and what they and their families can do to help keep the chicks safe.

You can also put signs up in store, and share our posts on your social media to let customers know that you will be supporting this important local conservation event. It costs you nothing, but can make a world of difference to this species.

PF Shearwater Adoption Kit5

This year, all participating businesses will receive a complimentary Penguin Foundation Adopt a Short-Tailed Shearwater pack donated by Phillip Island Nature Parks on your behalf. This symbolic adoption pack includes a plush toy, adoption certificate, fact sheet and gift bag. Your adoption will help protect wildlife, fund research, and restore habitat.

Contact us at community@penguins.org.au to become a supporter and receive a free campaign sticker.

What is the Phillip Island Nature Parks Conservation Team doing?

During this time, late April to mid-May, Phillip Island Nature Parks’ rangers and volunteers patrol roads and rescue wayward birds in danger of being hit by motorists.

We also conduct long term research studies, monitoring the birds during nesting and attaching tracking devices during their long migration. Watch the video below to get an understanding of the important research and conservation work done by our scientists.


What if I find a dead or displaced shearwater? 

If you find an uninjured bird on the beach, you can give them another chance by carefully moving them back to a highpoint, or placing them under a bush or in a sheltered area such as under a boardwalk.

Please also remember to stay on the paths and boardwalks, as walking through the habitat can easily cause burrows to collapse.

As part of the cycle of nature, some of the weaker fledglings may not survive their flight attempts. If you find a shearwater that hasn’t survived, please leave it on the beach as it will go on to provide a rich source of food for the near-threatened Pacific Gulls that move from their breeding sites to Phillip Island to feed. If it’s on a road, move to the side where it is safe to do so.

Please help us to log dead penguins, shearwaters and seabirds via the Nature Parks online form and assist with ongoing research and monitoring.

Can I volunteer or help?

Yes! We would love the help of volunteers to assist our rangers on patrols by collecting and collating data. NOTE: volunteers will not be on the roads or handling birds. Places are strictly limited.

Please contact us at volunteers@penguins.org.au if you would like to take part in this important conservation event.

Thank you to our partners 

We would like to thank our partners who helped make this event possible: SP Ausnet, Regional Roads Victoria and  Bunurong Land Council. 

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and to the supporting businesses! 

IGA San Remo
Bass Coast Secondary College San Remo Campus
Fish and Chip Co Op
First Choice Estate Agency
Rip Curl
Newhaven Veterinary Clinic
The Chocolate Factory
Newhaven Info Centre
JLA Advisory
Dar Boo Hair
Phillip Island Helicopters
Vietnam Veterans Museum
Bottle-O Surf Beach
Evans Quarries
Westernport Water
Newhaven Soccer Club
Smiths Beach Store
Full Circle
Burger Bar
Burnt Toast
First Choice Agency
Newhaven Primary School
The Yards
Garth Lisle
Bendigo Bank San Remo
Newhaven College
San Remo Pharmacy
Stockdale & Leggo San Remo
Newhaven Boys Home
IGA Cape Woolamai