Being Earth’s southernmost continent, Antarctica is the region of the coldest climates. It can be divided into 5 major regions, including Antarctic Peninsula, South Pole, East Antarctica, West Antarctica, and the Ross Sea. Surprisingly, many birds live in these chilliest climates.
So, what birds live in Antarctica? Around 46 species of birds live in Antarctica. The most common Antarctic birds are albatrosses, petrels, storm petrels, diving petrels, shearwaters, fulmars, prions, shags, skuas, gulls, terns, ducks, pintails, caracaras, sheathbills, penguins, and many more.
In this article, you’re going to learn about the distribution, identification, and diet of some of these birds. Once you finished reading this article, we suggest taking a quick look at another article on the 30 birds that inhabit the arctic.
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Birds That Live In Antarctica
1. Wandering Albatross
Wandering albatrosses are one of the most common birds found in Antarctica. Typically, these birds breed on the Crozet Islands, Prince Edward Islands, and South Georgia Island. However, some of them are year-round residents on the east coast of the south island of New Zealand.
Most importantly, wandering albatrosses have the largest wingspan in the world, measuring 3.5 meters. That’s why they don’t need to flap their wings so much while flying. Furthermore, they mainly feed on crustaceans, squid, and fish caught at night in shallow dives.
2. Southern Royal Albatross
Most southern royal albatrosses live in sub-Antarctic Campbell Island, while some of them stay on the Auckland Islands. These magisterially named seabirds have a white body plus black wings and a white tail. In males, the inner upper wing’s leading edge turns whiter with age.
Besides, they feature around 3 meters long wingspans. Their bills are robust, light pink with a creamy tip. When it comes to diet, they scavenge crustaceans, salps, fish, pelagic octopuses, and squid by diving into shallow water beneath the frozen surface of Antarctica.
3. Black-browed Albatross
Black-browed albatrosses breed on a dozen of islands throughout the Atlantic Ocean. The most common islands are the Falkland Islands, the Cape Horn Islands, the South Sandwich Islands, etc. These birds feature white heads, necks, and underparts.
Their back and tail are black. However, their bills are yellow with a red tip. The legs and feet are pale pink-grey. They can easily be identified by long narrow pointed wings and stiff wing beats. Cephalopods, jellyfish, salps, and krill are their favorites.
4. Antarctic Petrel
Antarctic petrels, one of the Earth’s southernmost breeding birds, are readily available in southern South America and South Africa. During the winter months, these birds are found in southern Australia, New Zealand, and Macquarie Island.
In appearance, Antarctic petrels have a chocolate brown head, back, and tail tip. Most importantly, the underparts are white. Furthermore, these birds feed on crustaceans, krill, amphipods, pteropods, euphausiids, cephalopods, and small fish.
5. Snow Petrel
Snow petrels mainly nest in Antarctica and its neighboring glaciated islands, including the Scott Islands, the Balleny Islands, South Orkney, South Georgia, and the South Sandwich Islands. In winter, they’re almost completely restricted to bitterly cold Antarctic waters.
In appearance, snow petrels feature pure white plumage, relatively long wings, dark eyes, a short narrow hooked blue-black bill, and bluish-black feet. These birds mainly feed on small fish, euphausiids, mollusks, and some cephalopods (squid).
6. Wilson’s Storm Petrel
Wilson’s storm petrels are the smallest birds that breed in Antarctica. In the southern hemisphere’s winter, these birds stay in the northern oceans. In summer, they’re found in the Atlantic and southwest Indian Oceans.
Wilson’s storm petrels have black plumage with a grey bar. These birds also feature black bills and legs. When it comes to diet, they mainly feed on small crustaceans, fish, marine worms, small squid, and other small organisms at sea.
7. Common Diving Petrel
Common diving petrels are usually found throughout the Southern Ocean, including the Falklands, South Georgia, the Antipodes, south of New Zealand all year round. These auk-like seabirds have a huge population of more than 16 million.
In appearance, common diving petrels are black above and grey and white below. The feet are blue, and the bills are stubby black. As the name suggests, these birds catch their prey by diving into waters. Small pelagic crustaceans are their favorite food.
8. Southern Giant Petrel
Southern giant petrels mainly breed in Antarctica. Their breeding range includes Antarctic Peninsula and sub-Antarctic islands, including South Georgia, Iles Crozet, and Heard Island. These birds usually nest in rocky bluffs, open flats, ice-free coastal areas, and offshore rocks.
What do southern giant petrels look like? Southern giant petrels are black and white in the breeding season, having paler, mottled yellowish bills. These birds mainly feed on crustaceans, squid, fish, krill, small seabirds, and carcasses of marine animals.
9. Blue Petrel
Blue petrels typically nest in sub-Antarctic areas, including some parts of South America, South Africa, and Australia. These seabirds feature white faces and undersides, while their upperparts are blue-grey. There is a white tip on the tail.
The bills are black. You will notice a black mask around their eyes. Most importantly, they’re 30 cm long and weigh around 200 grams. When it comes to diet, blue petrels, like other seabirds, feed on crustaceans, squid, small fish, krill, and other marine creatures.
10. Great Shearwater
Great shearwaters breed in the Antarctica region, particularly Tristan da Cunha, Inaccessible Island, Nightingale Island, South Georgia, Gough Island, and the Falklands. They’re one of the few southern hemisphere birds that migrate to the northern hemisphere.
In appearance, great shearwaters are dark above and white below. These birds have black bills, a black cap, dark shoulder markings, and a white horseshoe on the tail base. Like other seabirds, they love to eat crustaceans, small fish, and squid.
11. Sooty Shearwater
Sooty shearwaters, smaller than great shearwaters, are usually found in the Falklands and around Tierra del Fuego, Australia, New Zealand, and southern South America. The estimated population is about 20 million individuals.
Sooty shearwaters almost look like short-tailed shearwater. But, they have heavier, straighter wings and slightly longer bills. They mainly eat fish. However, crustaceans, squid, jellyfish, and euphausiid shrimp are their favorites.
12. Short-tailed Shearwater
Short-tailed shearwaters mainly breed around Australia, especially in Southeast Australia, colonies around Tasmania, and islands in the Bass Strait. These birds feature black bills, a blunt tail, and a wingspan of 1 meter. The estimated population is 9 million.
These seabirds primarily eat crustaceans, diving 20 to 50 meters deep into waters. The birds that live around Tasmania love to eat 1cm crustaceans, Nyctiphanes australis. However, the birds that live in Antarctica prefer 5cm Antarctic krills.
13. Southern Fulmar
Southern fulmars are one of the most common seabirds that live in Antarctica. These birds breed in many Antarctic regions, including South Sandwich Islands, South Shetland Islands, South Orkney Islands, and South Georgia.
In appearance, southern fulmars are medium-sized silvery-gray petrels. These gull-like seabirds have white flash in dark wingtips, pink bills, and bluish tubenose. In addition, they feed on fish, shrimp, squid, plankton, jellyfish, carrion, and refuse.
14. Antarctic Prion
Antarctic prions are found in the islands near Antarctica and sub-Antarctic regions. These seabirds breed in colonies on the Auckland Islands, the South Sandwich Islands, the South Orkney Islands, the South Shetland Islands, etc.
In appearance, Antarctic prions are blue-grey above and white below. These birds have blue-grey bills, blue legs, and a black tip to the upper tail. The shape of the bills may differ between subspecies. Small fish, crustaceans, and zooplankton are their favorites.
15. Slender-billed Prion
Slender-billed prions, also known as thin-billed prions, breed on the Falklands, around sub-Antarctic South American regions, and on islands in the southern Indian Ocean. The estimated population of these birds is around 7 million.
In appearance, slender-billed prions have a very pale face and a narrow black tip to the upper tail. As the name suggests, these birds have the thinnest bills among the prion species. Like other prion species, slender-billed prions mainly feed on zooplankton.
16. Broad-Billed Prion
Broad-billed prions are found all over the coastal areas and oceans in the southern hemisphere. These birds breed on Tristan da Cunha, Chatham Islands, South Island, and the sub-Antarctic Antipodes Islands. They mainly eat zooplankton.
All six prion species are similar but different in only the bill shape. As the name suggests, broad-billed prions have a broad bill. They are blue-grey above and white below with a white eyebrow stripe, a high forehead, and a black-tipped uppertail.
17. Antarctic Shag
Antarctic shags are readily available near the shores of coastal regions in the Antarctic Peninsula, Elephant Island, and the South Shetland Islands. These birds are white below and dark above, having prominent buffy-yellow caruncles on the sides of the forehead.
Besides, you’ll notice a bluish eyering. When it comes to diet, Antarctic shags feed on fish, crustaceans, octopuses, worms, snails, slugs, and other invertebrates. They usually remain in small groups or forage alone.
18. Rock Shag
Rock shags are usually found around Tierra del Fuego and the Falklands. Typically, these birds breed on cliffs or other rocky places around Valdivia, Chile, and south to Cape Horn. When winter strikes in the southern hemisphere, they migrate as far north as Santiago, Chile.
In appearance, rock shags have black and slightly white plumage. While the head, neck, and upperparts are black, the plumage below is white. The glossy blue to oil green sheen on the black areas is flecked with white in some places.
19. Blue-eyed Shag
Blue-eyed shags, also known as blue-eyed cormorants, are usually found throughout the Southern hemisphere, especially southern New Zealand and the southern end of South America. They’re the only Antarctic birds that stay in Antarctica all year round.
In appearance, blue-eyed shags are white below with black heads and backs. A short black crest is available during the breeding season. Around the eyes, a blue, red, or purple ring is noticeable. Crustaceans, octopuses, snails, worms, and small fish are their favorites.
20. Brown Skua
Brown skuas, also known as Antarctic skuas, sub-Antarctic skuas, southern skuas, or southern great skuas, breed throughout the Antarctic regions. These birds are usually found in offshore areas but are often seen towards the coast.
In appearance, Brown skuas are large, dark brown, featuring a very robust bill. In flight, these birds exhibit broad white patches throughout the body. When it comes to diet, they eat fish, small penguins, other birds’ eggs, carrion, and other seabirds.
21. South Polar Skua
Since south polar skuas are pelagic birds, they entirely live at sea. However, they’re sometimes spotted in many areas in the southern hemisphere, especially the Antarctic Peninsula, Ross Sea, and the South Shetland Islands.
In appearance, south polar skuas are 21 inches long. These stocky gull-like birds have a dull brownish-grey body with white patches, thick neck, broad tail, hooked bills, and black legs. They can be quite aggressive to humans if someone tries to be close to their nests.
22. Kelp Gull
Kelp gulls, also known as the Dominican gulls, are usually found in South America, southern Africa, and Australia. These birds breed on islands and coasts throughout the Southern Hemisphere. In appearance, they have black backs and wings and white underparts.
The robust bills are pure yellow, but the legs are greenish-yellow. Like other seabirds, kelp gulls prefer crustaceans, fish, mollusks, and other seabirds. Since they’re opportunistic scavengers, they change their diet depending on the season and the availability of food.
23. Antarctic Tern
Antarctic terns breed throughout the Southern Hemisphere, including Tristan da Cunha, St. Paul and Amsterdam Island, South Georgia, Gough Island, Iles Kerguelen, South Orkney Islands, South Shetland Islands, and the South Sandwich Islands.
In appearance, Antarctic terns look like Arctic terns, except that the Antarctic terns have grey wingtips and stockier bodies. Compared to other seabirds, these birds are pretty small, only 31 to 38 cm long. Crustaceans and small fish are their primary diet.
24. Falkland Steamer Duck
Falkland steamer ducks are year-round residents on rugged shores in the Falklands in the South Atlantic Ocean. However, these birds are sometimes seen in other Antarctic regions. They have brown to grey plumage and a very distinctive orange bill.
Most importantly, Falkland steamer ducks are flightless birds. These birds look quite similar to flying steamer ducks. Like other duck species, they prefer eating crustaceans and mollusks, diving on the seafloor.
25. Yellow-billed Pintail
Yellow-billed pintails are one of the species of ducks, found in high elevation lakes, marshes, rivers, and coasts in much of South America, South Georgia, and the Falklands. These birds have a brown head and neck with a yellow bill and a black tip.
Most importantly, yellow-billed pintails come with buffish brown plumage. Like many other duck species, these birds are omnivorous, feeding on crustaceans, mollusks, and Antarctic fur seal carcasses (those living in South Georgia).
26. Striated Caracara
Striated caracaras, also known as Johnny rooks, are dark-plumed raptors mainly found in Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands. The range of these birds is highly restricted within the southernmost parts of the Southwest Atlantic.
In appearance, striated caracaras have overall dark plumage with silvery streaking on the breast and neck. The face is yellow, and the bill is pale. Typically, these birds are carnivores, feeding on crustaceans, penguins, carcasses of birds, and eggs and chicks of other seabirds.
27. Snowy Sheathbill
Snowy sheathbills, also called American Sheathbills, are out there in the Antarctic Peninsula, the South Shetland Islands, the South Orkney Islands, the South Sandwich Islands, and South Georgia. They’re stocky and rather pigeon-like birds.
In winter, these birds migrate north in Tierra del Fuego and southern Argentina. However, a few juveniles are year-round residents. In appearance, these birds are entirely white with a pale pinkish face and a pale green-orange bill.
28. Emperor Penguin
Being the largest of all living penguins, emperor penguins live in Antarctica. In appearance, these flightless birds have a black head, throat, and chin. In addition, they feature broad yellow patches on both sides of the head.
Emperor penguins mostly feed on Antarctic silverfish, krill, squid, and other fish species. Adult penguins eat more, like 2 to 3 kilograms per day. Typically, they eat a couple of times a day to increase body fat for the long winter.
29. King Penguin
King penguins, like other penguins, breed on sub-Antarctic islands, such as the Falkland Islands, Tierra del Fuego, the Crozet Islands, and other temperate islands. At this moment, the estimated population of this penguin species is 2.23 million pairs.
In appearance, king penguins have a black head with vivid orange patches on both sides of the head. They’re usually 94 cm long and weigh around 30 to 35 lbs. During the breeding season, they eat lantern fish. In winter, they prefer squid.
30. Macaroni Penguin
Macaroni penguins are found throughout Antarctica and the Sub Antarctic regions, including the South Shetland Islands, Prince Edward and Marion islands, the Kerguelen Islands, the Crozet Islands, etc. They have distinctive black-yellow plumes on the head.
Like other penguin species, macaroni penguins are white below and black above. They’re 20 to 28 inches long and weigh around 1 lb. Their main diet is krill. However, they eat other crustaceans, small fish, and squid.
There are 46 species of birds out there in Antarctica. If you travel to Antarctica, chances are you encounter almost all the birds we just mentioned above. Not only that but there are a lot more birds out there in the southern hemisphere.
However, we hope you have learned a lot about the birds that live in Antarctica. If you think we have missed a particular bird that we should include in this article, comment down below. Share your experience with us about any of these birds.