Watching the Mutton Birds in Port Fairy

Watching the Mutton Birds in Port Fairy

The bird we commonly call the mutton-bird is the short tailed shearwater (Puffinus tenuirostris).

They were given the name ‘Mutton Bird’ by the early settlers who utilised their fatty flesh for food and as a source of oil. Today the bird is totally protected in Victoria, although limited harvesting still occurs in some Tasmanian islands. The short-tailed shearwater is the only variety of petrel whose breeding ground lies solely in Australia, mostly on islands off south-east Australia concentrated around Bass Strait. The birds appear in large numbers and the Griffiths Island colony numbers several thousand birds.  

One of Port Fairy’s most spectacular summer sights is the arrival of the mutton birds, or short-tailed shearwaters, at sunset each day on Griffith Island. 

Towards the end of September each year the annual migration of the short-tailed shearwaters, or mutton birds, arrives on Griffiths Island from their far flung journey in the northern hemisphere. The birds spend the summer months here, raising their young, before setting off again in mid-April 

Griffith Island can be reached via walking tracks and a causeway and is a great place to explore with the nesting birds and the iconic Port Fairy Lighthouse. The island is home to the mutton bird colony, which spend our winter months around the Aleutian Islands near Alaska. 

The Shearwaters are a spectacular example of the natural life cycle that Port Fairy is lucky to share with the wider community. Their arrival is a really fascinating  – they generally return to the breeding area on the same day each year usually September 22nd (however they can arrive anytime between 19th to 25th) and they occupy the same nest as the previous year, with the same breeding partner. 

The birds nest in burrows in the sand, incubating their eggs through to hatching in January. By April the adult birds set off on their annual 15,000 kilometre migration, leaving the chicks behind. Eventually hunger will force the chicks to follow their parents on the two-month voyage, which passes Japan and skirts the coast of North America. 

It is quite a sight to see the masses of birds returning to their burrows at dusk each day between September and April. If you are visiting the island please keep to the tracks as wandering off tracks can collapse the burrows and bury the chicks 

It is a unique experience you will not forget. 

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Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the Great Ocean Road region the Wadawurrung, Eastern Maar & Gunditjmara. We pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging. We recognise and respect their unique cultural heritage and the connection to their traditional lands. We commit to building genuine and lasting partnerships that recognise, embrace and support the spirit of reconciliation, working towards self-determination, equity of outcomes and an equal voice for Australia’s first people.