Seabirds and shorebirds
Tasmania’s cool temperate waters, relatively untouched coastline and numerous offshore islands are a safe haven to an array of special sea and shore-dwelling birds.
Tasmania's rugged coastline and offshore islands are perfect breeding grounds for many seabirds; some live in the oceans nearby and others travel from as far as Siberia. Meet a few of our more common seabirds below.
Little penguin (Eudyptula minor)
Also known as the fairy penguin, it is the smallest of all penguins. Its name derives from the Greek word 'Eudyptula' meaning 'good little diver'. With its flipper-like wings and streamlined shape the little penguin flies almost effortlessly through the water, much like a bird in the sky, diving from 10m to 60m underwater. They feed mostly on small school fish, some squid and krill (shrimp-like crustaceans). The pattern of life for the little penguin is largely affected by their shore-based nests located in bushy vegetation or rocks.
Short-tailed shearwater (Ardenna tenuirostris)
Commonly known as the muttonbird, the short-tailed shearwater has long played an important role in local Tasmanian Aboriginal culture. Also known as moonbird or yolla, shearwaters visit our shores every year in late spring to late summer to nest from as far away as Siberia, a 15,000km journey. The birds can live up to 38 years, and almost all breed in burrows. Shearwaters are truly impressive oceanic fliers, although after so long at sea, landings are not so graceful. Chicks taken during the harvest season are under strict regulations to manage this important cultural and environmental resource.
Shy albatross (Thalassarche cauta)
The shy albatross is unique to Tasmania, breeding exclusively on three offshore islands: Albatross Island in the north, and Pedra Branca and Mewstone in the south. Albatrosses are very slow to mature, and some take up to ten years before breeding which means they may not return to land for ten years. Once ready to breed, they return to these islands and lay a single egg every one to two years. This low reproductive output means that even a slight increase in mortality may have disastrous consequences for the survival of a population.
Tasmania's coast is home to feeding grounds for some of the most astonishing birds. Resident shorebirds live on the same section of beach all year round, and feed on nearby beaches. Others fly in droves to Tasmania's shoreline in summer from nearby islands and far-flung locations all over the world to feed and breed.
One local character, the hooded plover (Thinornis rubricollis), is a superb actor. They will try anything to keep people away from their young such as pretending to have a broken wing or running in front of people so that they follow them. These performances are to protect their defenceless chicks or eggs which are camouflaged in the dry sand and seaweed on the beaches.
Parks and Wildlife, together with councils and community groups, set up shorebird fencing every year to protect shorebird breeding grounds. Keep an eye out on our beaches and wetlands to see how many of our local and visiting shorebirds you can see.
Who to look for
- Little penguin (Eudyptula minor)
- Short-tailed shearwater (Ardenna tenuirostris)
- Australasian gannet (Morus serrator)
- Shy albatross (Thalassarche cauta )
- Buller's albatross (Thalassarche bulleri)
- Hooded plover (Thinornis rubricollis)
- Red capped plover (Charadrius ruficapillus)
- Silver gull, commonly known as a seagull, (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae)
- Pacific gull (Larus pacificus)
- Kelp gull (Larus dominicanus)
- Pied and sooty oystercatchers (Haematopus longirostris and Haematopus fuliginosus)
Best places to see them
It is always handy to bring a pair of binoculars to the beach with you to see our beautiful wildlife up close without disturbing them in their home.
You will find shorebirds along most beaches in Tasmania. If you intend to go penguin watching, please read the Penguin Watching Guidelines beforehand to ensure that you do not disturb these highly sensitive birds.
Shearwaters and little penguins can be seen at dusk at a number of locations around the state:
Other seabirds can often be seen at the following locations:
The biggest threat facing modern day albatross populations is the accidental killing - or bycatch - on fishing operations, particularly commercial longline and trawl fisheries.
Both penguins and shearwaters can be affected by feral cats, as they find chicks easy prey. Trampling of burrows by humans can also cause their death. Similarly, erosion caused by recreational vehicles can destroy suitable sites for burrowing. It is important to keep off colonies.
All these species can suffer the effects of marine debris through consumption and entanglement. Natural effects such as storms, high seas and other weather events can have a large impact of the survival of these birds.
To help look after our shorebirds on the beaches, please practice these few little things:
- Walk only on the wet sand, below the high tide mark (between Sept-April)
- Keep your distance from nesting birds on beaches
- De-sex cats and keep both them, and pet dogs, in at night
- Dispose of waste responsibly
- Safely pick up any litter and fishing line
- Walk your dog away from known shorebird nesting areas and keep them on a lead
- Do not drive vehicles on nesting beaches
- Do not collect seaweed, or other beach materials
To report information concerning little penguins, please call the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania (NRE Tas) Wildlife Management Branch or your the local Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service office.