Cool fact…
This website helps meets Australia's obligations under the World Heritage Convention, by bringing Heard Island to the people (it's very difficult to bring the people to Heard Island!).

Southern giant petrel

Giant petrels
Southern giant petrels (Macronectes giganteus). Photo by R. Kirkwood (Photo: Roger Kirkwood)

Vital statistics

Scientific name: Macronectes giganteus

Appearance: Southern giant petrels have two distinct colour phases, which are white and dark. Dark phase adults have a grey-brown body with white head, neck and brown speckled breast. Juveniles of dark phase birds have a dark brown body with a dark brown iris, which closely resemble Northern giant petrel juveniles. White phase birds are completely white except for a few scattered dark feathers. White phase birds generally constitute a maximum of 5% of a population.

Wingspan: Approximately 1.8 to 2.1m

Mass: 3.8 to 5kg, females lighter

Length: Up to 1m

Breeding age: Age at first breeding between 4 and 8 years

Breeding frequency: Annual

Breeding season: Breeding birds arrive in September. Egg laying commences in late October, with eggs hatching in late December and chicks fledging in May

Longevity: Banded birds have lived for more than 30 years

Foraging statistics

What do I eat? Krill, squid, fish, other small seabirds, and carcasses of marine mammals. However, it has been shown that there is a significant dietary difference between the sexes. Females feed more on live prey at sea such as krill, squid, and fish, whereas males feed more on carrion.

What eats me? There are no known predators

Range trip time: Unknown for birds at Heard Island.

Range trip length: Foraging trips by breeding birds have been recorded up to around 15,000 km.

Distribution & abundance

Distribution: Breeds on the Antarctic continent, Antarctic Peninsula and on subantarctic islands including Heard Island, South Georgia, Marion, and Îles Crozet. During non-breeding season, can migrate and disperse great distances over the Southern Ocean. Southern giant petrels nest in ice-free coastal areas, rocky bluffs, open flats, edges of plateaux or offshore rocks. However, even though nests may be totally covered by snow, the parental birds often continue to sit on them to protect their eggs or chicks from the potentially fatal cold.

Abundance: There are approximately 3000 breeding pairs on Heard Island.

Conservation status

The species is a listed threatened (endangered), marine and migratory species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and is listed under international conservation agreements, including the:

The species is also covered by a number of conservation plans, including the:

General comments

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.

This page was last modified on 28 February 2005.