Mutton Bird Fact Sheet

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LAST UPDATED: 5 June 2018

Adult short-tailed shearwaters, or 'mutton birds', fly halfway around the globe to hatch and raise a single chick each year in colonies across southern Australia, returning to the same sandy burrow every spring. It's an arduous, exhausting journey — but, sadly, even if they survive the trip, their home isn't a safe haven.

Once the adults leave again in April for their feeding grounds in Alaska and Russia, their vulnerable chicks — still covered in fluffy down — become targets for government-sanctioned 'recreational' killing on coastal islands of Tasmania. These defenceless babies are pulled from their nests, their necks twisted and broken. They will never follow their parents north.

Tasmania is the only state that allows this native species to be killed. Shearwaters are protected elsewhere, including in Victoria — where they were once hunted in vast numbers, especially by early European settlers, for meat, feathers and oil.

The cruel slaughter of these native baby birds still goes ahead despite ongoing grave fears for the long-term survival of the species. In recent years, experts and local communities have become increasingly concerned by the rising frequency of mass shearwater deaths during their annual marathon migration — pointing to climate change, warming waters and overfishing as potentially fatal stressors for these awe-inspiring animals.

Animal suffering

The hunting and killing of the short tailed shearwater involves a great deal of cruelty. The young chicks are ripped from their burrows and then are supposed to have their necks quickly broken thus resulting in death. However, there is no training for the killing procedures and particularly those involved with the recreational killing may be inexperienced.

A recommended three-step killing method is offered to hunters by the Tasmanian State Government, but it is impossible to know how frequently and effectively this method is used. It is highly likely that many birds suffer unnecessarily.

Conservation at risk

The short-tailed shearwater colonies are often disturbed or ruined by muttonbirders whilst attempting to get birds out of the deep burrows by digging and/or damaging vegetation cover. Returning parent birds in the following season may then be unable to find alternate burrows and breeding is disrupted.

Shearwaters also die in large numbers during their migration due to starvation, entanglement in ocean fishing nets, and oil spills.

What you can do

  1. Click here to join the call to urge the Tasmanian Government to step in and ban the cruel killing of mutton bird chicks.

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