Giant petrel

Species profile

Name: giant petrels are large seabirds related to albatross. There are two closely related species: the southern giant petrel (Macronectes giganteus), and the northern giant petrel (Macronectes halli).

Appearance: giant petrels resemble albatross, with long beaks and thin, narrow wings. You can tell them apart by their nostrils! For petrels they are joined together on the tops of the beaks, while for albatross they are separated on the sides. Giant petrels are also a mottled brown colour while albatross are usually white.

Size: southern giant petrels are slightly larger than the northern species, with a wingspan of 1.8 to 2.1 metres and a weight of 3 to 8 kg, compared to 1.5 to 2.1 m and 3 to 5 kg.

Diet: giant petrels are highly opportunistic feeders. They will feed on almost anything both on land and sea – even rubbish! On land they feed on carrion and regularly scavenge penguin and seal colonies. While at sea they feed on krill, squid, and fish.

Did you know: their greedy and undiscriminating behaviour around food has given rise to nicknames such as ‘gluttons’ and ‘stinkers’. They are extremely aggressive birds and once they have found something to eat, they declare their ownership through a ‘sealmaster posture’. In this pose they stretch out their wings, point their heads at any opponents, and raise their tails. They are known to attack and kill other seabirds, even those as large as albatross, by beating them to death or drowning them!

Location: both species are found in the Southern Hemisphere breeding on oceanic islands such as South Georgia. Some southern giant petrels nest as far south as Antarctica.

Where to see giant petrels

According to reports submitted to WildSide, you can see giant petrels in the following places:

Place Chance to see User rating No. reports
South Georgia
very high
very good
Tierra del Fuego
Argentina and Chile
very good

Photo credit: Ed Dunens under a Creative Commons licence from Flickr

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