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Yelkouan Shearwater Puffinus yelkouan


This species is precautionarily maintained as Vulnerable. It is thought to be undergoing a rapid population decline, caused by extremely low breeding success and adult survival owing to fisheries bycatch and predation by introduced mammals. However recent evidence suggests the population may actually be increasing at some colonies. If further study and monitoring fail to provide evidence of declines, the species may warrant downlisting in the future.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
Brooke, M. de L. 2004. Albatrosses and Petrels Across the World. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

Taxonomic note
Puffinus yelkouan (Sibley and Monroe 1990, 1993) has been split into P. yelkouan and P. mauretanicus following Brooke (2004).

36 cm. Medium-sized shearwater with blackish-brown upperparts contrasting sharply with almost entirely white underparts and underwings. Underwings only dark on tips, tailing edge and diagonal band across secondary coverts. Some brown on flanks, axillaries, undertail and underwing coverts. Feet are proportionally larger and extend slightly beyond tail, thus appearing longer-tailed at long range. Similar spp. Similar to P. puffinus but with browner upperparts, deeper-chested appearance, somewhat larger more attunuated body and longer wings. Flight and jizz more similar to P. mauretanicus which darkest individuals may closely resemble. Voice: Similar to P. puffinus; a raucous cacophony of cackles and howls but more drawling and with drawn-out falsetto notes.

Distribution and population
This species is endemic to the Mediterranean basin, but its precise distribution is not well known and numbers are disputed (Bourgeois and Vidal 2008). The main breeding colonies are concentrated in the central and eastern basin of the Mediterranean, from Corsica and Sardinia through the central Mediterranean, the Adriatic and the Aegean (Borg et al. 2010). The species is known to breed in France (662-1,109 pairs, 528-1,053 pairs according to BirdLife International 2015), Italy (9,000-20,000 pairs, 12,791-19,774 according to BirdLife International 2015), Malta (1,190 - 1,680 pairs, 1,660-1,980 according to BirdLife International 2015), Algeria (8-10 pairs), Tunisia (176-200 pairs), Croatia (300-500 pairs, 300-400 pairs according to BirdLife International 2015), Albania (1-10 pairs), Greece (4,000-7,000 pairs) and Bulgaria (0-10 pairs) giving a global estimate of 15,300-30,500 pairs according to Derhé (2012) and 19,400-31,200 pairs according to BirdLife International (2015). Breeding is assumed in Turkey on offshore islands or mainland cliffs in the Aegean and Mediterranean, but so far no colonies have been identified and more surveys are needed (D. Sahin in litt. 2015).

A small population may also breed on the eastern Balearic Islands in Spain, although the existence of the species here is somewhat controversial, given the taxonomic uncertainty of the birds breeding in Menorca (Arcos 2011, Curé et al. 2010). During the non-breeding season birds are thought to migrate north-eastwards towards the Black Sea, although some birds may remain close to breeding colonies or disperse around the Mediterranean (Raine et al. 2013, Carboneras et al. 2014). More than 90,000 individuals were recorded passing through the Bosphorous during the non-breeding season in 2014 (D. Sahin in litt. 2015).

Population trends in Algeria, Bulgaria and Tunisia are currently unknown. Trends in Albania, Croatia, France and Turkey were reported as unknown in the short-term for the 2015 European Red List of Birds and Albania, Croatia, Greece and Turkey reported unknown trends for the long-term (BirdLife International 2015). The population has been estimated to be declining rapidly in Italy (N. Baccetti in litt. 2011), however trends reported for the European Red List of Birds suggest the population may be increasing (BirdLife International 2015). The reported increase in the Italian population is highly dependent on the trend of the most important breeding site, Tavolara, where numbers are thought to be steadily increasing (E. Dupre, L. Serra in litt. 2015). However it is not clear whether reported increases are as a result of changes in methodologies for monitoring population trends (N. Baccetti in litt. 2015). Declines have previously been reported for France (Oppel et al. 2011) and Malta (Borg and Sultana 2002, Raine et al. 2009, Sultana et al. 2011), although the Maltese population was reported as increasing in the 2015 European Red List of Birds (BirdLife International 2015) but this may be as a result of better knowledge of the species rather than a genuine increase (B. Metzger in litt. 2015). Nine colonies have gone extinct over the last 60 years (Bourgeois and Vidal 2008) and since 2009, one breeding colony off Sardinia (San Pietro Island) has been reported as absent, possibly extinct (N. Baccetti in litt. 2011). Most worryingly, breeding success at many colonies appears to be extremely low and adult survival probabilities across the western Mediterranean have been reported as too low to maintain stable populations (Oppel et al. 2011).

Population justification
Figures point to a total of 15,337-30,519 pairs equating to 46,000-92,000 individuals based on a population assessment covering the species's entire range (Derhé 2012). This corresponds with preliminary counts conducted during the non-breeding season at the Black Sea in which c. 75,000-90,000 individuals have been recorded migrating through the Bosporus [J. Tavares and D. Sahin. in litt. 2012, D. Sahin in litt. 2015]). However, more surveys are needed to confirm to confirm this number, particularly in Turkey.

Trend justification
Extremely low breeding success has been reported at several important colonies, particularly in Italy (Baccetti et al. 2009), as well as adult survival probabilities (across the western Mediterranean) that are currently too low to maintain stable populations (Oppel et al. 2011). There is evidence of both recent and historical colony extinctions, with ten colonies having been reported extinct in the last 60 years (Bourgeois and Vidal 2008, N. Baccetti in litt. 2011). The trends of populations in Albania, Algeria, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Turkey and Tunisia are currently unknown. Declines are suspected in Croatia (for at least one colony [I. Budinski in litt. 2011]) and Greece (based on long-term trends [J. Fric in litt. 2011]) however the Greek population was reported as stable according to the European Red List of Birds (BirdLife International 2015).

It has been reported that the species is declining in Italy by 10-50% over 13 years (N. Baccetti in litt. 2011), in France by 6% per year (Oppel et al. 2011) and in Malta by 0-15% over nine years (Borg and Sultana 2002, Raine et al. 2009, Sultana et al. 2011). In total, these three countries represent around three-quarters of the global population. By combining data for these three countries it is predicted that, if the species continues to decline at the current reported rate, the global breeding population will decrease by more than 30% in the next 54 years, i.e. three generations (Derhé 2012). These declines are precautionarily retained despite increases reported for Italy and Malta in the 2015 European Red List of Birds (BirdLife International 2015). The reported increases may be either dependent on the trend at one colony or may be as a result of better knowledge rather than real increases. Consultation with experts in the relevant countries suggests that overall the negative trends should be retained for the current assessment. However should new information suggest that these populations are experiencing genuine increases the global trend direction should be amended.

It breeds on rocky coastal and offshore islets, and on the mainland. In the non-breeding season it disperses widely within the Mediterranean and Black Seas, often congregating in large flocks (Snow and Perrins 1998).

The most serious threat to the species is mortality from incidental fishing bycatch, followed by predation by invasive predators (predominantly rats Rattus rattus and to a lesser extent, feral cats Felis catus). A study in France and Malta (Oppel et al. 2011) implicated fishing bycatch as a critical cause of mortality for the species, since the majority of the adult mortality of birds breeding in Malta occurred during the non-breeding season. This pattern is consistent with the presumed cause of low adult survival probabilities in the Balearic Shearwater (Oro et al. 2004, Tavecchia et al. 2008). Long-liners in particular affect the species (Arcos et al. 2008, Louzao et al. 2011), often on an irregular basis, but impacting fairly large numbers at a time. Since Procellariiforms are generally long-lived, their populations are highly sensitive to changes in adult survival. The increased adult mortality induced by accidental bycatch is therefore a significant danger to them and a highly important threat (Lebreton 2000). 

Yelkouan Shearwaters have been shown to suffer substantial predation pressure by introduced mammalian predators on breeding grounds (Bourgeois et al. 2008, Bonnaud et al. 2009) with observed population declines in Italy being attributed to alien predators, predominantly rats (Capizzi et al. 2010, Sultana and Borg 2006), which heavily limit reproductive success by predation upon chicks and eggs. On the Tavolara archipelago, Italy, the colony size has been much reduced in the last 30 years and vast sectors of the islands have been deserted; breeding success was assessed for the first time in 2006 and it was found to be zero (due to rat predation) in several colonies (J. J. Borg in litt. 2006). Feral cats Felis catus are a major threat. On the Hyères islands (French Mediterranean coast), feral cats have been identified as the primary predator of the species: shearwater remains were found in up to 6% of cat scats, representing hundreds of adults killed each year, especially during the pre-breeding period (Bourgeois and Vidal 2008). Cat predation on Levant Island in the Hyères islands is high and could result in the extinction of the colony within four decades (Bonnaud et al. 2012).

Increasing tourism and coastal urbanization in the Mediterranean create sound and light disturbances at colonies and damages fragile breeding habitats (Bourgeois and Vidal 2008, Oppel et al. 2011). Breeding success may be affected by reduced abundance of anchovies and sprats due to competition from fisheries (Bourgeois and Vidal 2008). The gregarious behaviour of this species makes it particularly vulnerable to oil spills and the intense maritime traffic in the Mediterranean and Bosporus increases the risk of oil spills. Less prominent threats include competition for nest sites with Cory's Shearwater, collisions with wind turbines, pollution and contaminants (e.g. plastic [R. Crnkovic in litt. 2012]), environmental events (such as toxic algal blooms and geological erosion) and illegal hunting (Derhé 2012).

Conservation and Research Actions Underway
EU Birds Directive Annex I; Annex II of the Bern Convention. A new IBA project has been started in Malta. An EU Life/BirdLife Malta project aimed at conserving a colony of c. 500 pairs at Rdumtal-Madonna, Malta, has recently been completed. A rat eradication project is being implemented at Montecristo Island, Italy during 2011-2012 as part of the 2010 Montecristo LIFE project that aims to eradicate several invasive species from Montecristo and Pianosa (see A rat eradication programme was carried out on the islands of Zembretta and Zembrettina in Tunisia in 2009, resulting in an increase in the breeding population of Yelkouan Shearwater (Bourgeois et al. 2013).

Conservation and Research Actions Proposed

Determine whether the species breeds in Turkey. Search for colonies at sites in Greece and Tunisia. Carry out population censuses at breeding colonies for which there is currently little reliable, up-to-date population size data, particularly those in Sardinia, Sicily and Greece. Continue breeding and non-breeding period counts at the Bosporus and conduct breeding and non-breeding counts at other bottleneck sites. Research ecological requirements and carry out extensive demographic monitoring. Research the impact of introduced predators across breeding range. Research impact of predator control/ eradication programmes on annual survival and breeding success at different sites. As a precaution, control or if possible eradicate feral cats and rats at breeding colonies, according to a priority analysis and at sites with evidence of predation. Quantify extent of mortality from accidental bycatch. Encourage policymakers to implement and enforce measures that reduce accidental bycatch of Yelkouan Shearwaters and other seabirds in commercial fishing operations in the Mediterranean and Black seas. Propose the species for listing on Annex I of ACAP to address seabird bycatch (C. Carboneras in litt. 2015). Identify and implement measures to reduce/mitigate the effects of light pollution on the species (e.g. Raine et al. 2007).

Arcos, J. M.; Louzao, M.; Oro, D. 2008. Fishery ccosystem impacts and management in the Mediterranean: seabirds point of view. In: Nielsen, J.; Dodson, J.; Friedland, K.; Hamon, T.; Hughes, N.; Musick, J.; Verspoor, E. (ed.), Proceedings of the Fourth World Fisheries Congress: Reconciling Fisheries with Conservation, pp. 587-596. American Fisheries Society, Symposium 49, Bethesda, MD, USA.

Arcos, J.M. (compiler). 2011. International species action plan for the Balearic shearwater, Puffinus mauretanicus. SEO/BirdLife & BirdLife International.

Baccetti, N.; Capizzi, D.; Corbi, F.; Massa, B.; Nissardi, S.; Spano, G.; Sposimo, P. 2009. Breeding shearwaters on Italian islands: population size, island selection and co-existence with their main alien predator, the black rat. Rivista Italiana di Ornitologia 78(2): 83-100.

BirdLife International. 2015. European Red List of Birds. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg.

Bonnaud, E., Berger, G., Bourgeois, K., Legrand, J. and Vidal, E. 2012. Predation by cats could lead to the extinction of the Mediterranean endemic Yelkouan Shearwater Puffinus yelkouan at a major breeding site. Ibis 154(3): 566-577.

Bonnaud, E., Bourgeois, K., Vidal, E., Legrand, J., Le Corre, M. 2009. How can the Yelkouan shearwater survive feral cat predation? A meta-population structure as a solution? Population Ecology 51: 261-270.

Borg, J. J.; Raine, H.; Raine, A. F.; Barbara, N. 2010. Protecting Malta's wind chaser: the EU LIFE Yelkouan Shearwater project report.

Borg, J.J. and Sultana, J. 2002. Status and distribution of the breeding Procellariiformes in Malta. Il-Merill 30: 10-15.

Bourgeois, K. and Vidal, E. 2008. The endemic Mediterranean yelkouan shearwater Puffinus yelkouan: distribution, threats and a plea for more data. Oryx 42(2): 187-194.

Bourgeois, K., Ouni, R., Pascal, M., Dromzee, S., Fourcy, D. and Abiadh, A. 2013. Dramatic increase in the Zembretta Yelkouan shearwater breeding population following ship rat eradication spurs interest in managing a 1500-year old invasion. Biological Invasions 15: 475-482.

Brooke, M. de L. 2004. Albatrosses and Petrels Across the World. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Capizzi, D.; Baccetti, N.; Sposimo, P. 2010. Prioritizing rat eradication on islands by cost and effectiveness to protect nesting seabirds. Biological Conservation 143(7): 1716-1727.

Carboneras, C., Jutglar, F. and Kirwan, G.M. 2014. Yelkouan Shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. and de Juana, E. (eds), Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive, Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Curée, C., Aubin, T., Mathevon, N. 2010. Intra-sex vocal interactions in two hybridizing seabird species (Puffinus sp.). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 64: 1823-1837.

Derhé, M. A. 2012. Population assessment for the Yelkouan Shearwater Puffinus yelkouan. In: BirdLife International (ed.), Methodology for Bird Species Recovery Planning in the European Union. Final Report to the European Commission. BirdLife International for the European Commission, Cambridge, UK.

IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-4. Available at: (Accessed: 19 November 2015).

Lebreton, J. D. 2000. Dinámica de poblaciones y conservación de aves marinas: el papel de los modelos matemáticos. 6th Mediterranean Symposium on Seabirds. Conference on Fisheries, Marine Productivity and Conservation of Seabirds. Benidorm, Spain. 11-15th October 2000. Book of abstracts 39.

Louzao, M., Arcos, J. M., Laneria, K., Beldae, E., Guallartf, J., Sánchez, A., Giménez, M., Maestre, R. and Oro, D. 2011. ["Evidence of the incidental capture of the Balearic Shearwater at sea"]. Proceedings of the 6 CONGRESS of GIAM and the International workshop on petrels and shearwaters ecology at southern Europe. 34: 165-168.

Oppel S., Raine A.F., Borg J.J., Raine H., Bonnaud E., Bourgeois K. and Breton A.R. 2011. Is the Yelkouan shearwater Puffinus yelkouan threatened by low adult survival probabilities? Biological Conservation 144(9): 2255-2263.

Oro, D.; Aguilar, J. S.; Igual, J. M.; Louzao, M. 2004. Modelling demography and extinction risk in the endangered Balearic shearwater. Biological Conservation 116: 93-102.

Raine, A.; Sultana, J.; Gillings, S. 2009. Malta breeding bird atlas 2008. BirdLife Malta, Ta'Xbiex, Malta.

Raine, A.F., Borg, J.J., Raine, H. and Phillips, R.A. 2013. Migration strategies of the Yelkouan Shearwater Puffinus yelkouan. Journal of Ornithology 154(2): 411-422.

Raine, H., Borg, J.J., Raine, A., Bariner, S. & Cardona, M.B. 2007. Light Pollution and Its Effect on Yelkouan Shearwaters in Malta; Causes and Solutions. Malta: Life Project Yelkouan Shearwater. BirdLife Malta.

Sibley, C.G. and Monroe, B.L. 1990. Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.

Sibley, C.G. and Monroe, B.L. 1993. A supplement to 'Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World'. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.

Snow, D.W. and Perrins, C.M. 1998. The Birds of the Western Palearctic, Volume 1: Non-Passerines. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Sultana, J. and Borg, J. J. 2006. Population ecology and conservation of the Cory's Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea). Proceedings of the first symposium on the Mediterranean action plan for the conservation of marine and coastal birds - RAC/SPA, Tunis: 37-39.

Sultana, J., Borg, J.J., Gauci, C. and Falzon, V. 2011. The Breeding Birds of Malta. BirdLife Malta, Malta.

Tavecchia, G., Minguez, E., De Leon, A., Louzao, M., Oro, D. 2008. Living close, doing differently: small-scale asynchrony in demography of two species of seabirds. Ecology 89: 77-85.

Further web sources of information
Detailed regional assessment and species account from the European Red List of Birds (BirdLife International, 2015)

Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Calvert, R., Derhé, M., Ekstrom, J., Harding, M., Newton, P., Pople, R., Symes, A. & Ashpole, J

Borg, J., Bourgeois, K., Corso, A., McMinn, M., Petkov, N., Tavares, J., şahin, D., Raine, H., Carboneras, C., Ramírez, I., Sultana, J., Yésou, P., Metzger, B., Baccetti, N., Fric, J., Budinski, I., Arcos, J., Crnkovic, R., Sposimo, P., Oppel, S., Raine, A., Barbara, N., Zenatello, M., Bourne, W., Serra, L., Dupre, E. & Perlman, Y.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Puffinus yelkouan. Downloaded from on 28/11/2015. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2015) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 28/11/2015.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Yelkouan shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Procellariidae (Petrels, Shearwaters)
Species name author (Acerbi, 1827)
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 2,960,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- 2015 European Red List assessment