Short-tailed shearwaters on Phillip Island are migratory birds that nest on the island over summertime. 

Phillip Island is a nesting ground for thousands of these short-tailed shearwaters. They are also known as mutton birds. They travel from Alaska to build nests and incubate their eggs on the island. During this time they build nests in burrows around Cape Woolamai and they fly out to sea during the day for fishing. 

Phillip Island is better known as the home of Little Penguins. The nightly Penguin Parade is where visitors to the island come to see the Little Penguins up close. However, the population of short-tailed shearwaters are just as impressive to see. They fill the skies as they return to their nests in the evening. 

Read on to learn more about the short-tailed shearwaters on Phillip Island.

Shearwater bird species

There are 13 species of shearwater. The short-tailed shearwaters have a short tail with blackish brown feathers. Adult short-tailed shearwaters on average weigh 550 grams with a wingspan of one metre. 

Because of this long wingspan and narrow wings, they can fly as fast as 85 kilometres an hour. They are also excellent swimmers, diving as deep as 50 metres in search of prey such as krill.

They are often seen skimming along the water’s surface at high speeds. Their beak is slender with a hook at the end to assist in catching their prey.

The great migration

Short-tailed shearwaters are one of the few migratory birds that come to Australia to breed. 

The short-tailed shearwaters travel to many other places such as Antarctica, New Zealand, Siberia, Alaska, South America and Japan on their migration.

There are approximately one million short-tailed shearwaters that arrive on Phillip Island in late September each year. They started their migration from the Aleutian Islands near Alaska. 

Most birds complete this amazing 15,000 km migration in eight weeks. However it was once discovered that one shearwater completed the trip in six weeks!

Threats to the short-tailed shearwaters

There are a number of threats to the shearwater colonies on Phillip Island. Potential predators include other birds such as Pacific gulls, ravens, swamp harriers, hawks and eagles. In addition, the shearwater eggs are sought after by silver gulls, lizards and snakes. 

Over the past decades a number of colonies have disappeared. Populations have also dropped dramatically due to farming, soil erosion, foxes, roaming dogs, feral cats and other introduced species.

Short-tailed shearwaters are now a protected species by state law and international treaty – the Japan and Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (JAMBA) and Victorian wildlife protection legislation.

Where do the shearwaters nest?

The visiting migratory population of short-tailed shearwaters nest at Cape Woolamai on Phillip Island. Cape Woolamai at Phillip Island is renowned for its stunning pink granite cliffs, surf beach and incredible wildlife. 

A visit to Cape Woolamai on our Phillip Island tour from Melbourne reveals its place as a natural wonder amongst the protected flora and fauna of the island. It’s also a great place to explore on foot, or for experienced surfers to catch the waves.

Visit Cape Woolamai on our Phillip Island Tour

In the warmer months, when time permits, we visit Cape Woolamai on our Phillip Island day tour from Melbourne. It’s an amazing sight to view the deep blue of the ocean and the striking pink granite headland.

A walk onto the beach lets you feel the power of the wind and the waves. It is the longest beach on the island at 4.2 kms long. Because it faces south-west it feels the full brunt of the wind and waves. However, for surfers, the southerly swell is welcomed for the waves. 

The lookout point next to the carpark is a great place to view the southern side of the island. From the Cape Woolamai headland in the east to Point Grant in the west.

Other wildlife around Cape Woolamai includes Little Penguins, wallabies, gulls and even snakes. In winter, you can view whales passing by the island from the Cape Woolamai headland.

What else can you do at Phillip Island?

Penguin Parade

Phillip Island is famous for the colony of Little Penguins that reside on the island. Each night thousands of these penguins return from the ocean to waddle across the beach to their burrows. The Penguin Parade is the best place to watch these cute little creatures up close, without disturbing them or their natural environment.

The Nobbies and Seal Rocks

A visit to Point Grant lets you discover the Nobbies and Seal rocks. The Nobbies are dome-shaped rock formations off the coast of Phillip Island which provide an important home to the island’s Little Penguins. They can be viewed from the boardwalks at Point Grant. From the boardwalk you’ll also get great views out to the Southern Ocean and across Western Port Bay. 

Seal Rocks are further off the coast of Phillip Island. They are a home to Victoria’s largest colony of Australian fur seals. The seals feed in the waters surrounding Phillip Island and can be found resting and sleeping on the rocks. At Point Grant there are binoculars along the boardwalk which can be used to get a closer view of Seal Rocks. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Where is Phillip Island?

Phillip Island is just under 2 hours drive south-east from Melbourne. Access to the island is via a bridge from the small town of San Remo. 

Which birds live on Phillip Island?

Phillip Island is most famous for being home to the world’s largest colony of Little Penguins. However, these are not the other birds on the island. Each year over a million short-tailed shearwaters migrate from Alaska to Cape Woolamai on Phillip Island. The island is also a breeding and feeding ground for many other bird species – in particular sea-birds.

Travel with Go West Tours 

At Go West Tours we pride ourselves on exceeding industry standards for excellence and customer service. After 22 years in business, Go West Tours is still a family-owned and operated tour business. We are as committed to providing guests with an unforgettable experience as we were back in 2000.

We are the most highly-awarded tour operator in Melbourne and we guarantee to provide you with an experience that is memorable for all the right reasons. Our tour guides are knowledgeable, passionate and ready to share Phillip Island’s amazing wildlife with you. 


Written by: Leah Furey – Digital Content Coordinator