Latin name: Macronectes giganteus

Southern Giant Petrel - Photo: Steve Ebbert

Southern Giant Petrel – Photo: Steve Ebbert

Longevity: Banded birds have lived for more than 30 years.

Population: 97,000

Cites classified: Near Threatened (IUCN, 2008)

Where found: The Southern Giant Petrel breeds on the Falkland Islands, Staten Island and islands off Chubut Province (Argentina), South Georgia, the South Orkney and South Shetland Islands, islands near the Antarctic Continent and Peninsula, Prince Edward Islands, Crozet Islands, Heard Island and Macquarie Island, with smaller populations on Gough Island, Tristan da Cunha, Diego Ramirez and Isla Noir, Kerguelen Islands, and four localities on the Antarctic Continent including Terre Adélie.

Wingspan: 150-210 cm

Length: 85-100 cm

Weight: 3.8-5 kg

Mating/Breeding: The Southern Giant Petrel breed on exposed hilltops and plains on sub-Antarctic islands throughout the region in small, loose colonies, building nests of small stones or grass. Breeding starts in October, with both parents taking turns to incubate a single egg for 55 to 66 days. After about four months the chicks fledge and leave the breeding site to roam the Southern Ocean for six or seven years until they are mature and ready to breed.

Eggs: White egg.

Hibernation: North to 20° S in winter.

Hunting Habits: Scavengers that can be very aggressive. They can drown or batter to death birds as Cape petrels and immature albatrosses. They are avid ship-followers in quest of refuge of offal.

Feed on: These ‘vultures of the Antarctic’ are probably Antarctica’s most important scavengers, feeding on carrion, especially the carcasses of seals, penguins and petrels. They also surface-feed on squid, krill and fish.

Threats: Many Southern Giant Petrel’s are caught on the hooks of long-line fishing boats.

Colour/Looks: Southern giant petrels have heavy, yellow-green bills with pale green tips. Most adults are brownish grey, with dirty white heads, necks, and upper breasts. Juveniles are sooty black with a few white flecks on the head.

Interesting Trivia:

  • Also known as Southern Giant Fulmar
  • Another name given to giant petrels is “stinker”, which comes from their ability to spit (with accuracy) a blob of oil and food at their attacker.
  • Foraging trips by breeding birds have been recorded up to around 15,000 km.
  • Southern giant petrels tend to return to the same nesting sites every breeding season. Some pairs have been observed returning to the same nest year after year.

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