Marine Birds | Polar Unbound

Marine Birds

Albatros

ALBATROSS 

Several species of albatross migrate to the Antarctic and subantarctic. 

The Wandering albatross, identified by their white bodies, wedge-shaped tails and long pink beaks, can be found across the Southern Ocean over Antarctic, subantarctic and subtropical waters. They breed only once over two years, heading to Antarctic and subantarctic islands such as South Georgia, Macquarie and Iles Kerguelen. Though they stick closer to home during breeding season, the wandering albatross can venture off for up to 50 days at a time on foraging trips. 

The Light-mantled sooty albatross, a smaller albatross once known as “Blue Bird” by 19th century sealers for their blue-tinted plumage, can often be found on Macquarie Island, where around 1,000 pairs next every year. 

The Black-browed albatross received their name for the prominent black eyebrow contrasting to their white bodies. They can be found throughout Antarctic, subantarctic and sub-tropical waters. However, they prefer to breed on Antarctic and subantarctic islands such as Heard, Macquarie, Iles Kerguelen, the McDonald Islands and the Falkland Islands. Over 85% of the black-browed albatross population can be found on the Falkland Islands, their most significant breeding grounds. 

The aptly named Grey-headed albatross has a blue-grey head and neck, a white body and a dark grey tail and back. They breed on many subantarctic islands with the largest populations on South Georgia, Macquarie and Campbell Islands. Grey-headed albatrosses remain over subantarctic waters throughout the year, where they feast on the sea surface with a diet of fish, squid and crustaceans. 

Antarctic Tern

ANTARCTIC TERN 

Antarctic terns, with their bright red bills and orangish-red feet and legs, stand out amongst the Arctic landscape. Unlike its northern peer, the Arctic tern, the Antarctic tern doesn’t undergo incredible trans-continental migrations every year after breeding. Rather, Antarctic terns stay pretty close to their breeding islands throughout the year. 

BLUE-EYED CORMORANT/MACQUARIE ISLAND SHAG 

BLUE-EYED CORMORANT/MACQUARIE ISLAND SHAG 

Blue-eyed cormorants, sometimes known as imperial or Macquarie Island shags, have black backs that contrast to their white breasts, white necks and white cheeks. They are relatively large birds, reaching 69-74 cm in length with a wing span of 1.1m. Blue-eyed cormorants breed on the western coast of southern South America and further south on South Georgia, South Sandwich, South Shetland, South Orkney, Heard, Macquarie and Iles Kerguelen Islands as well as on the Antarctic Peninsula. 

FUN FACT: Leopard seals are known to attack blue-eyed cormorants at sea. 

Kelp Gull

KELP GULL 

Kelp gulls, with their white head, neck, underbelly, rump and tail topped with their black upper wing and saddle, were named after Dominican friars who wore white and black habits. Kelp gulls can be found throughout subtropical and subantarctic regions. In the subantarctic, Kelp gulls lay eggs from November-December after constructing conical or bowl-like nests of seaweed, grass, shells, sticks and other detritus. 

FUN FACT: Kelp gulls prey on other seabirds and even their own eggs and chicks as well as their normal diet of mollusks and fish. 

Antarctic Petrel

ANTARCTIC PETREL

Antarctic petrels can be found flying over the Antarctic’s icebergs, ice floes and pack ice, and you can also spot massive flocks of Antarctic petrels numbering in the thousands perched on the ridges of icebergs. You’ll recognize them by their rich brown and white wings and white tail tipped with brown-black feathers. 

FUN FACT: Antarctic petrels only lay one elongated, oval egg.

Cape Petrel

CAPE PETREL 

Cape petrels can be identified by their distinctively dotted black-and-white upper body and white underbelly. Their tails, chin throat, bill, legs and bill are also all black. Cape petrels breed in Antarctica, subantarctic islands, subtemperate islands off New Zealand and in the South Indian and South Atlantic Oceans—a much wider distribution area than the Antarctic petrel. 

FUN FACT: Cape petrels cannot recognize their own eggs, and so they occasionally rear other species’ chicks. 

 

Southern Giean Petrel

SOUTHERN GIANT PETREL 

Southern giant petrels breed on the Antarctic continent, Antarctic Peninsula and on subantarctic islands such as South Georgia, Heard, Marion Islands and Iles Crozet. They nest in ice-free regions such as the coast, rocky bluffs, offshore rocks and plateau edges. 

Southern giant petrels have two color phases: white and dark. Dark phase southern giant petrels have grey-brown bodies with white necks and heads against a brown-speckled chest. White phase southern giant petrels are almost completely white except for some scattered dark brown feathers. 

FUN FACT: Southern giant petrel parents will continue to sit on nests completely covered in snow in an effort to protect their eggs. 

SNOW PETREL 

The aptly named snow petrel is completely white whose small black bill, dark eyes and blue-grey feet stand out against their snowy appearance. They also blend in with their habitat, as they spend almost all of their time over antarctic waters and perching on ice floes, pack ice and icebergs. They breed throughout the Antarctic continent, Antarctic Peninsula and on South Georgia Island, South Sandwich Islands, Balleny Islands, Bouvet Island and South Orkney Islands. 

FUN FACT: Storm petrels fly low over the water but high over land to avoid predators. 

SUBANTARCTIC SKUA 

SUBANTARCTIC SKUA 

Subantarctic skuas can be grey-brown or dark-brown and are dotted with white patches. They are a far-ranging bird who can be found as far south as the subantarctic and as far north as the subtropics. Though subantarctic skuas have been spotted on Antarctic islands, they are not known to breed there. 

SOUTHERN FULMAR

SOUTHERN FULMAR

Southern fulmars breed on the Antarctic Peninsula and the Antarctic continent as well as the South Sandwich, South Orkney and South Shetland Islands as well as South Georgia, Bouvet and Pete 1 Islands. While southern fulmars nest on steep coastal cliffs, they head north away from pack ice during the chilly winter months. You can identify southern fulmars by their pink bill and pink-blue feet, largely pale grey bodies and characteristic white patch on the wings.