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Yelkouan Shearwater Puffinus yelkouan


This species has been uplisted to Vulnerable as it is estimated 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. Declines have probably been on-going for many years, and are projected to continue. The species may be declining more rapidly than this and should this be confirmed, the species will warrant uplisting to a higher threat category.

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.

36cm. 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
Puffinus yelkouan 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), Italy (9,000-20,000 pairs), Malta (1,190 - 1,680 pairs), Algeria (8-10 pairs), Tunisia (176-200 pairs), Croatia (300-500 pairs), 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 (Derhé 2012). Breeding is assumed in Turkey on offshore islands or mainland cliffs in the Aegean and Mediterranean, but there is very little data on this. 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). Population trends in Albania, Algeria, Bulgaria, Turkey and Tunisia are currently unknown, but declines are suspected in Croatia and Greece. The population is estimated to be declining rapidly in Italy (N. Baccetti in litt. 2011), France (Oppel et al. 2011) and Malta (Borg and Sultana 2002, Raine et al. 2009, Sultana et al. 2011), representing around three-quarters of the global population. 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 up to 75,000 individuals have been sighted migrating through the Bosporus [J. Tavares and D. Sahin. in litt. 2012]). 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, Turkey and Tunisia are currently unknown, but 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]). 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 9 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).

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 (Louzao et al. 2011, Arcos et al. 2008), 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). 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 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
Conservation Actions Proposed
Carry out population censuses at breeding colonies, particularly those in Sardinia, Sicily and Greece. Determine whether the species breeds in Turkey. Search for colonies at sites in Turkey, 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 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. Quantify extent of mortality from accidental bycatch. 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. 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. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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, 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.; Monroe, B. L. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.

Sibley, C. G.; Monroe, B. L. 1993. A supplement to 'Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world'. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.

Snow, D. W.; Perrins, C. M. 1998. The Birds of the Western Palearctic vol. 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.

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,

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Puffinus yelkouan. Downloaded from on 10/10/2015. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2015) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 10/10/2015.

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