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Top 10 Spectacular Birds of Antarctica

Colourful Spectacular Birds

While talking about Antarctica, which bird immediately comes to mind? Most people would say the penguin.

But there are about 45 other species of fantastic birds living and breeding in Antarctica. Against the backdrop of blue hues reflected by icebergs, numerous spectacular birds thrive there and some of them are really colourful birds.

Antarctica, containing about 70% of world's freshwater, offers fantastic opportunities to experience seabird life. This happens in spite of extremely cold conditions prevailing where these birds have to adapt to live and breed.

Let's discover the 10 most beautiful birds of Antarctica.

Map of Antarctica

Emperor penguins - Aptenodytes forsteri

Emperor penguins - Aptenodytes forsteri

1. Emperor Penguin

Penguins are flightless birds and the emperor penguin is the tallest and heaviest of all living species of penguins. They can grow up to 4 ft. and weigh between 22 to 45 kgs, males normally weigh more than females. They stay in very harsh environment with sub-zero temperature but are quite capable of adapting themselves to these conditions.

There are similarities in colours of the male and female penguins. Their dorsal feathers are deep black which cover their back, dorsal flippers and tail while also their head, throat and chin. Big portion of their bellies are white with pale yellow upper breast and bright yellow ear patches.

Female penguins lay one egg but the incubating job is with the males. In the mean time females move to the sea for about two months for hunting and return with big belly full of food for the chicks. Surprisingly, while keeping the eggs warm males do not eat anything but move to sea after the females return. Fantastic, how faithful they are to each other.

The emperor penguin is now a nearly threatened category of conservation status due to decline of food as a result of climate changes.

Wandering albatross - Diomedea exulans

Wandering albatross - Diomedea exulans

2. Wandering Albatross

The wandering albatross is one of the largest birds in the world and known for spending most of their lifespan in flight. The only time they are seen on land is for mating, feeding and raising their young ones, large colonies are seen during this period.

Also, they have the largest wingspan, may cross even 11 feet and they are long-lived bird, going to even 50 years. The large wings help them to fly for miles over ocean without flapping their wings and even glide for hours together.

They have white bodies with white and black wings. Males have faint peach spot on the side of the head, pink large bill and pink feet. Their salt gland above the nasal passage helps to desalinate their bodies. They feed themselves on small fish and crustaceans. They are capable of following ship hoping in search of food in garbage.

They are hunted for their feathers and are vulnerable for conservation status.

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Southern giant petrel - Macronectes giganteus

Southern giant petrel - Macronectes giganteus

3. Southern Giant Petrel

The southern giant petrel is a large seabird with a wingspan nearing 200 cms. Out of the two morphs, the darker one has a grey-brown body but the head, breast and neck are whitish. It has very large yellow bill with greenish tip. It gives a hunchbacked appearance while in flight.

It has a large range from Antarctica to Chile, Africa and Australia. Nesting is done in ice-free coastal areas and many of them are known for returning to the same nest every breeding season. They prefer krill, squid and fish for feeding themselves. The conservation status of the species is of the least concern.

Other Names: Antarctic giant petrel, giant fulmar, stinker, stinkpot

Imperial Shag - Phalacrocorax atriceps

Imperial Shag - Phalacrocorax atriceps

4. Imperial Shag

With 40 species of cormorants and shags in the Phalacrocoracidae family, there is no consistency in their distinction. Imperial shag is covered with glossy black feathers and the belly and neck are white. Legs and feet are pinkish and the eyes have a ring of blue skin. With a large global population, they are native to Antarctic Peninsula, Sub-Antarctic Islands and southern parts of Southern America.

They breed in colonies which are relatively small and shared with others. Their nests are made of grass and seaweeds. Their 2 to 3 chicks are vulnerable to predators.

They feed on small fish, crustaceans, squid and they are capable of catching its food by pursuit-diving for which they may travel some distance even.

Other names: blue-eyed shag, blue-eyed cormorant, king comorant

Snowy Sheathbill - Chionis albus

Snowy Sheathbill - Chionis albus

5. Snowy Sheathbill

Snowy sheathbill is the only land bird without webbed feet at Antarctica. It is called snowy because it is pure white in colour except its face, which is pink. It is found on Sub-Antarctic islands and Antarctic peninsula. Migration to South America and Falkland Islands happens in winter.

It regularly roosts on one leg and finds its food on land. It nests under a rock or in a crevice and fights during courtship periods. Normally 2 to 3 eggs are laid. It is omnivorous and believes in stealing food like fish, eggs, small chicks of breeding penguins.

It is not a threatened species globally.

Other names: greater sheathbill, pale-faced sheathbill, paddy

Wilson's storm petrel - Oceanites oceanicus

Wilson's storm petrel - Oceanites oceanicus

6. Wilson's Storm Petrel

Wilson's storm petrel is a small gregarious seabird. With dark brown plumage excepting the flanks and the rump which are white. It has long thin legs and feet which are black but the feet has yellow webbing. It is one of the most abundant species breeding in Antarctic coastlines and nearby islands. It migrates and spends autumn in Northern Hemisphere as a non-breeding season.

While hovering over water with quite low with its feet skimming, it picks up food from the water's surface. It feeds on crustaceans and fish.

It is species with least concern on conservation status.

Other names: Wilson's petrel, flat-clawed or yellow-webbed storm petrel

Brown skua - Stercorarius antarcticus

Brown skua - Stercorarius antarcticus

7. Brown Skua

Brown skua is a large sea bird which breeds in some areas of the Antarctica, South Georgia and New Zealand. They are very heavy, noisy and known for belligerent postures and attacking penguins.

They feed on fish, small mammals, eggs and other birds, and also serve as scavengers. They stay near sea for securing their food but move to dry lands for nesting and breeding. They are opportunistic birds and there is no consensus about their classification. They are not threatened birds.

Other names: Antarctic skua, subantarctic skua, southern skua, southern great skua

Kelp gull - Larus dominicanus

Kelp gull - Larus dominicanus

8. Kelp Gull

Kelp gull is distinguished from other gulls because of upper parts and wings which are very black and pale yellow-green legs. The head, tail and underparts are white but the bill is yellow with a red spot. The eye is yellow and surrounded by with orange-red ring.

Kelp gull is not only spread over Antarctica and many sub-antarctic islands but found on coasts and islands throughout the Southern Hemisphere. Breeding occurs between September and January. They are monogamous and breed in colonies. Their diet includes fish, worms, arthropods, reptiles, amphibians and they also believe in scavenging.

Other names: Dominican gull

9. Cape Petrel

Cape petrel has distinctive pattern of colours with black-and-white chequered plumage. It has black head and neck but the upper parts are black and white. The legs, feet and bill are black.

They are quite common seabirds in the Southern Sea and they breed in colonies of the Antarctic continent and near New Zealand sub-temperate islands. They are quite quarrelsome and noisy on food and nest issues. The species is not threatened. A single large egg is laid in November and incubation period is about one and a half month. They live on small fish, squid and amphipods.

Other names: Cape pigeon, Pintado petrel

Macaroni penguin - Eudyptes chrysolophus

Macaroni penguin - Eudyptes chrysolophus

10. Macaroni Penguin

Macaroni penguin is markedly different because of the yellow crest arising out of the central part of the forehead. Its beak is also peculiar, bulbous with orange-brown colour. Its legs and feet are pink and eyes are red. In contrast with the white underparts it has black chin, throat and head along with some underparts differentiating from white.

It used to be the most numerous among penguin species, but it is reduced to threatened status of conservation. It ranges from from Sub-antarctic to Antarctic Peninsula and lives in large and dense colonies on rocky coasts and lower cliffs during breeding.

They lay two eggs, the first one is smaller than the second which comes 4-5 days later. This large and flightless species eats small fish and cephalopods.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on April 27, 2016:

Thanks, Alun. There is so much to explore in every corner on this earth. More we do, more we realise that there is much more to explore. I am glad you liked the Hub. Have a nice day!

Greensleeves Hubs from Essex, UK on April 27, 2016:

Nice original article to show ten species of birds from a part of the world which everyone associates only with penguins. Thanks for showing these species and for the videos. I suppose penguins will always be most popular for their anthropomorphic comedic value, but I voted for the Cape Petrel, for its beautiful speckled patterning.

Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on April 21, 2014:

Thanks Radhika, I am glad you love to know about these birds. Your support is motivating. Have a nice time!

Radhika Sreekanth from Mumbai,India on April 21, 2014:

Lovely description as well as pictures! Loved reading them as always! Voted up and beautiuful.

Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on January 04, 2014:

Tolovaj, Quest for knowledge takes one to even unknown territories. Those who have seen and interacted with these birds are real great people. Thanks for visiting. Have a nice weekend.

Tolovaj on January 04, 2014:

Who would expect to see such a variety in so cold place... Birds are so impressive! Thanks for the tour:)

Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on December 24, 2013:

Thanks, Pearl. I am glad you liked the Antarctic birds. They are really beautiful. I wish I could see some of them in real. Thanks for all the support also. Merry Christmas to you.

Connie Smith from Southern Tier New York State on December 24, 2013:

I loved this gorgeous and beautifully-written photo journal of the birds of Antarctica. It's always fun for me to learn about different species of our amazing avian populations. Thank you for sharing all this beauty;) Pearl

Voted Up++++ and pinned

Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on December 17, 2013:

Jamie, Since most of us have not come across these beautiful creatures we want to learn more and more about them. I wonder if you have seen some of them. Thanks for visiting and watching them for sometime. Have a nice day!

Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on December 17, 2013:

Janis, I am glad you liked the images and have made a smiling entry to HubPages. Have a wonderful time!

Jamie Lee Hamann from Reno NV on December 17, 2013:

What a great hub about species of birds that I am interested in learning more about. Well written and organized. Thank you for sharing. Jamie

Janis from California on December 17, 2013:

Your images are amazing! They put quite a smile on my face.

Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on December 05, 2013:

Vellur, You are welcome. Thanks for stopping by and learning something about beautiful birds of Antarctica. Thanks for the support also. Have a nice day!

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on December 05, 2013:

Thank you for the educational hub about the birds of Antarctica, voted up, useful and informative.

Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on December 04, 2013:

idigwebsites, it is really sad that many of the female penguins do not return because they are eaten by seals. Surprisingly, males continue their jobs of incubating the eggs. It will be interesting to find out how the little ones survive when the males go away after about two months and females don't return. They must be quite weak since they do not eat during this period.

I understand macaroni penguins got the name from 18th century style of excessive ornamentation called Maccaronism. Anybody adopting this fashion was termed as maccaroni or macaroni. The yellow crest prompted the English sailors to name these penguins Macaroni.

Well, thanks for stopping by and your comments. Have a nice day!

idigwebsites from United States on December 04, 2013:

I watched "The March Of The Penguin" and I saw that that it's the males who incubate the eggs, and they huddle together against the cold and the snow storms, while the females leave in search of food. Sadly many aren't able to return to their families as they are eaten by seals. Kind of sad, but that's how nature works.

I wonder why these other penguins are called macaroni penguins? They're cute in the pics btw! Interesting hub. :)

Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on December 04, 2013:

aviannovice, It would really be a moment of joy to see any of these beautiful birds. Unfortunately, every one may not get a chance. I am glad to know about skua experience. Best of luck to you to venturing to see more of them. Thanks for visiting. Have a nice day!

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on December 04, 2013:

These are all wonderful birds that I must see at some time in my life. The skua came to Oklahoma and feasted on some of our pro little Cattle Egrets. It is an irruptive year for many species. An informative an enjoyable article that gave me added knowledge.

Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on November 29, 2013:

mylindaelliott, Thanks for stopping by. I am glad you like birds and Antarctica birds are not common but beautiful. Have a nice time!

mylindaelliott from Louisiana on November 29, 2013:

I love birds. What great information and pictures!

Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on November 29, 2013:

DDE, Thanks for stopping by. I am glad you liked the birds of Antarctica. Have a nice day!

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on November 29, 2013:

Top 10 Spectacular Birds of Antarctica truly amazing birds. A well-informed hub.

Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on November 27, 2013:

Mel Carriere, I am glad you learnt a lot. It seems Antarctica is quite rich in bird life and it is always a pleasure to know about some which are not even heard of. It is also interesting to learn about their survival patterns. Thanks for visiting. Have a nice time!

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on November 27, 2013:

Awesome hub. Whenever they teach about bird life in Antarctica they include the penguins and little else, so I was pleased you took the time to over the petrels and other bid species. I learned a lot.

Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on November 26, 2013:

Suhail (and your dog), Nature lovers like you can appreciate these birds. I am glad you were thrilled by the Macaroni Penguins' display. Not many will maintain these tastes with the professional commitments like you seem to have. Thanks for visiting. Have a nice time!

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on November 26, 2013:

An informative article on an unusual topic! I liked it immensely. Few people know of any birds other than the penguins in Antarctica.

Btw, those Macaroni Penguins are really punk rockers of the birds. I like them.

Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on November 26, 2013:

Mary Cimeni, Most of us associate Antarctica and penguins. But there is so much to learn in this world. Thanks for visiting and voting. I am glad you found it interesting. Have a nice day!

Mary Cimeni from Philippines on November 26, 2013:

Wow! This is surprising. When i hear Antarctica, i can only imagine penguins and "Happy Feet." beautiful hub! Voted interesting ;-)

Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on November 26, 2013:

thumbi7 , Thanks for visiting. I am glad you liked the pictures and pinned a few. Have a nice time!

JR Krishna from India on November 26, 2013:

Beautiful pictures. I have pinned few of them

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