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The Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus) is a medium-sized shearwater in the seabird family Procellariidae. The scientific name of this species records a name shift: Manx Shearwaters were called Manks Puffins in the 17th century. Puffin is an Anglo-Norman word (Middle English pophyn) for the cured carcasses of nestling shearwaters. The Atlantic Puffin acquired the name much later, possibly because of its similar nesting habits.
This bird is 3038 cm long, with a 7689 cm wingspan. It has the typically "shearing" flight of the genus, dipping from side to side on stiff wings with few wingbeats, the wingtips almost touching the water. This bird looks like a flying cross, with its wing held at right angles to the body, and it changes from black to white as the black upperparts and white undersides are alternately exposed as it travels low over the sea.
At some time or another, every living one of the middle-sized species of Puffinus has been considered a subspecies of P. puffinus. The extant Yelkouan Shearwater and Balearic Shearwater (Sangster et al. 2002), Hutton's Shearwater, Black-vented Shearwater, Townsend's Shearwater, the Hawaiian Shearwater, and the Fluttering Shearwater are now considered good species. Of these, only the Hawaiian and possibly Townsend's Shearwaters seem to be somewhat closely related to the Manx Shearwater (Austin 1996); the former Puffinus puffinus "superspecies" has turned out to be a number of more or less distantly related lineages. However, including the extinct forms listed below, at least the Mediterranean taxa do apparently constitute a superspecies in their own right, and maybe the New Zealand ones also. Also belonging to this complex seem to be several extinct species: * Lava Shearwater or Olson's Shearwater, Puffinus olsoni from the Canary Islands, as was * Hole's Shearwater, Puffinus holeae, which also occurred on the western coasts of Iberia, and * Scarlett's Shearwater, Puffinus spelaeus of South Island, New Zealand; undescribed remains found on Menorca may belong to an already-named or a new taxon; they are not from the Balearic Shearwater (Alcover 2001) which is possibly closer to P. holeae than to any other known species, living or extinct. There also existed a Late Pliocene/Early Pleistocene species known from Ibiza, Puffinus nestori, which may have been the direct ancestor of the Mediterranean Shearwater (Heidrich et al. 1998). The Atlantic forms are parapatric whereas the Pacific forms are sympatric or were not too long ago (Holdaway et al. 2001) and are reproductively isolated by a different circannual rhythm.
The prefix Manx, meaning from the Isle of Man, originated owing to the once large colony of Manx Shearwaters found on the Calf of Man (a small island just south of the Isle of Man). The species became extinct as a breeding bird there owing to the accidental introduction of rats from a shipwreck in the late 18th century; however a recent control program has resulted in Manx Shearwaters returning to breed in small numbers.
They are long-lived. A Manx Shearwater breeding on Copeland Island, Northern Ireland, was as of 2003/2004 the oldest known living wild bird in the world: ringed as an adult (at least 5 years old) in July 1953, it was retrapped in July 2003, at least 55 years old. This is a gregarious species, which can been seen in large numbers from boats or headlands, especially on passage in autumn. It is silent at sea, but at night the breeding colonies are alive with raucous cackling calls.
The Manx Shearwater feeds on small fish (particularly herring, sprat and sardines), crustaceans, cephalopods and surface offal. The bird forages individually or in small flocks, and it makes use of feeding marine mammals and schools of predatory fish, which push prey species up to the surface. It does not follow boats.
This species breeds in the North Atlantic, with major colonies on islands and coastal cliffs around Great Britain and Ireland. These birds have been nesting along the Atlantic coast of northeastern North America since about 1970 and have since expanded their breeding range southward into the Gulf of Maine with a pair having been confirmed nesting at Matinicus Rock (http://www.fws.gov/FWSJournal/regmap.cfm?arskey=26734&callingKey=state&callingValue=ME). They nest in burrows, laying one white egg which is only visited at night to avoid predation by large gulls. The islands are usually free of mammalian predators (but on the island of Rm, about 4 percent of the chicks are preyed on by Red Deer and sheep that need extra calcium.) They form lifelong monogamous pair-bonds.
Manx Shearwaters migrate over 10,000 km to South America in winter, using waters off southern Brazil and Argentina, so the 55-year-old bird mentioned above probably covered over 1,000,000 km on migration alone (not counting day-to-day fishing trips). Another bird ringed in 1957 and still breeding on Bardsey Island off Wales in April 2002, was calculated by ornithologist Chris Mead to have flown over 8 million km (5 million miles) during its life.
In the nineteenth century Manx novel 'The Manxman' by Sir Hall Caine, a reference is made to the satanic folklore surrounding the Manx shearwater, apparently due to its unusual call and dark appearance.