SOURCE: ABC News (Australia)

DATE: October 4, 2019

SNIP: Birdwatchers fear for the fate of thousands of short-tailed shearwaters, also known as mutton birds, which failed to arrive in south-west Victoria at the usual time after their annual migration from the northern hemisphere.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of short-tailed shearwaters descend on Victoria’s coastline to breed following a mammoth journey which takes two months to complete.

The birds spend the northern summer around Alaska, before travelling 15,000 kilometres to Australia where they arrive with precision.

For the past 30 years, the south-west Victorian population has arrived at Griffiths Island, near Port Fairy, a day either side of September 22.

But this year, the date came and went without the usual flurry of activity.

Peter Barrand, president of Birdlife Warrnambool, said he had basically set his watch by the shearwaters’ arrival for the past three decades.

“We couldn’t find any at first, but further investigation found there were small numbers coming in.

“For a colony that’s something like 40,000 strong — a handful of birds is a significant decline.

A spokesperson for Victoria’s Environment Department said short-tailed shearwaters typically returned to colonies at Port Fairy and Port Campbell in late September to early October, but so far, only small numbers of birds had been sighted at either location.

It said the possible causes were unknown, but there were several factors that could have delayed the birds’ arrival, such as climate variability and food availability in the northern hemisphere.

“Something’s obviously gone drastically wrong in the arctic — whatever the shearwaters have been feeding on has failed to appear,” Mr Barrand said.

“Autopsies have shown the deaths were all attributed to starvation. And that’s the worrying part about it.