All About The Snow Petrel

Snow PetrelPetrels

The snow petrel is interestingly only one bird of three bird species that breeds in Antarctica. Population of the snow petrel is considered to be around 4 million adult birds and hence are not found to be in concern for an endangered bird species.

Snow Petrel Habitat

Snow petrels have a few different habitats; they can be found on Antarctica cliffs, inland on the Antarctica Continent, on icebergs or anywhere close by the sea in Antarctica. Preferably to them and likely to be seen you can find them on the cliffs of the Antarctica Peninsula where they get their food source, krill and fish. Note that they are found to live around packs of ice covering over 10% of the area.

Inland of the Antarctica are large rock formations miles deep in ice that have a proceeding peak sticking out of the snow or/and ice which are called nunataks. These are one rock formation that can be an ideal location for snow petrels. Their nests are basically crevices in the rock that are deep or have overhanging protection from snow petrel predators or the Antarctica weather.


Found in both large and small colonies Snow Petrels prefer to breed in colonies that can be found on cliffs or inland on the Antarctica or surrounding islands. Altitudes where the Snow Petrels have been found are known to be over 2000 and have been seen over 270 miles inland.

The breeding season tends to be around November time. At this time Snow Petrels will seek out deep rock where they can have their nests or even use previous nests, the nests are merely scrapped out areas with some overhanging rock for some protection. One egg is laid only which will then be incubated for around 40 to 50 days and additionally, the new chicks are brooded for around 8 days. The chick will now remain in the nest for 6 to 7 weeks before being developed enough for fledging.

Success chances are around 50% for eggs but adults have a very high survival rate of over 90% which contributes to the life span of up 20 years!

Identifying a Snow Petrel

Mainly and most appealing of these bird species is their pure white plumage. They also have real dark black eyes and beak and their feet are a gray and bluish colour. The size of the an adult snow petrel can be around 35 to 40 centimetres in length, have a wingspan of up to 80 centimetres in length and the males tend to be a little larger than the females.

Snow petrels have some other characteristics such as stomach oil, nasal passage that joins onto their upper part of their beaks and a salt gland at the top of their nasal passage that will rid any excess salt intake which can be a lot.

Snow petrel chicks have a very distinct plumage which has gray down feathers.


Apart from the Antarctica weather that can block nests and kills Snow Petrels the main predator is that of Skuas, namely south polar Skuas. Snow petrels are aggressive territorial birds in which they will flap their wings, call out or screech and spit. Their stomach oil is used to spit at any intruders that will give off a foul smell.

What does a Snow Petrel Feed On?

The main food source of the Snow petrel is small fish, krill, dead animal carcases such as whales and seals and as well as some other small marine animals. The stomach oil that is produced will not only act as a deterrent for any predators/intruders but also as a small food source that can feed their chicks and themselves on long flight paths.

When hunting their food they will mainly snatch anything that is near the top of the oceans but will dive into the waters if required.

Snow Petrel Facts

Only found in iced covered areas with over 10% ice cover hence the Antarctica is a preferred Snow Petrel habitat.

Snow petrels can live up to 20 years

Don’t get too close or you will find yourself being spit on by them, they will spit out stomach oil and some of their lunch! This is a foul smell but good tactic for any predators.

They will bathe in the snow to clean their plumage rather than most birds that will bathe in water.

Skuas and the harsh climate conditions are the main mortality causes.