American Birding Podcast



Open Mic: Take Action to help Townsend’s Shearwaters

At the Mic: Josh Beck

The Townsend’s Shearwater is one of the most critically endangered of all seabirds, but has very few conservation resources dedicated to it. I’ve long been interested in this bird, and it has seemed to me that its plight should not be so dire. It breeds on just one island- Isla Socorro in the Revillagigedo Island group, off the west coast of Mexico. It formerly bred on two other islands in the Revillagigedo group, but was extirpated from San Benedicto by volcanic eruption in 1952 and from Clarion by introduced mammals in the 1980’s. On Socorro, it is under threat from light pollution, cat predation, and trampling of nesting burrows by sheep. The last population estimate, in the 1990’s, was perhaps 1000 breeding birds but recent suggestions are that the number could have already fallen to just a few hundred, though these are all only estimates.

Saving the most endangered seabird in the Americas from Experiment on Vimeo.

The good news, however, is that Socorro is an island and the only human population is small and confined to a naval base. Juan E. Martinez-Gómez of INECOL (Instituto de Ecologia) has been studying the Townsend’s Shearwater for many years (as well as working with other endangered Socorro endemics, the Socorro Dove and the Socorro Mockingbird). He is currently seeking a meager $2,500 to replace lighting at the naval base on Socorro in order to reduce fatality from accidental collisions and landings, and we are almost there.

I had the great fortune to see this critically endangered bird off the coast of Oaxaca, Mexico last fall, an encounter which only heightened my interest in protecting this species. It seems to me that $2,500 should be a very easily achievable goal and I hope that seabirders and birders alike will contribute what they can to help the plight of the Townsend’s Shearwater! With modest intervention this species should be able to recover and become a regularly observed species in the Eastern Pacific instead of a rarity on it’s way to extinction!


Josh Beck, along with Kathi Borgman, is birding the Americas on a quest to see as many birds as they can, document status and distribution, record bird vocalizations, report on conservation issues, and provide up to date information on birding sites and new locations for rare species. For more stories and birding adventures in the Americas check out their blog ( or like them on Facebook (