Latin name: Pagodroma nivea

Snow Petrel - Photo: Steve Ebbert

Snow Petrel – Photo: Steve Ebbert

Longevity: 14 to 20 years.

Population: The Snow Petrel has a large global population estimated to be more than 4,000,000 individuals.

Cites classified: Least Concern (IUCN, 2008)

Where found: Snow Petrels are circumpolar, nesting extensively on the Southern continent and on some of the islands in high latitudes. Some remain around the continent all year, but the main influx of breeders arrives from mid-September to early November.

Wingspan: 75-95 cm

Length: 30-40 cm

Weight: 200-570 g

Mating/Breeding: The Snow Petrel’s nests are simple pebble-lined scrapes usually in a deep rock crevices with overhanging protection. One egg is laid in late November to mid-December. The egg is incubated for 41 to 49 days and the chick is brooded for 8 days. They fledge 7 weeks later in late February to mid-May.

Eggs: White.

Hibernation: During the winter they disperse to the pack ice, ice floes and the open sea.

Hunting Habits: The Snow Petrel take their food on the wing in tern-style, but they will also forage for larger plankton animals from edges of older pack-ice. Snow petrels are more or less indifferent to ships.

Feed on: Snow Petrels feed mainly on fish, some cephalopods, molluscs and krill as well as carrion

Threats: The Snow Petrel’s are not globally threatened. Eggs and chicks may be taken by skuas, but extremes of weather are a more serious cause of mortality.

Colour/Looks: Snow petrels have pure white plumage, dark eyes, and a dark bill.

Interesting Trivia:

  • There are two subspecies, the Greater Snow Petrel (Pagodroma nivea confusa) and the Lesser Snow Petrel (Pagodroma nivea nivea). They differ in size, and the greater form has a stouter, larger beak. The Greater Snow Petrel has a more restricted distribution: Adelie Land and the Balleny Islands.
  • It is highly manoeuvrable with a bat-like flight.
  • It is one of only three birds that breed exclusively in Antarctica and has been seen at the South Pole.
  • Snow petrels, along with South polar skuas, breed further south than any other birds in the world.
  • Like many petrels these birds squirt waxy, yellowish stomach oil at nest intruders. This oil stinks of fish and is extremely difficult to remove.

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