snow petrel

The snow petrel was first named by Georg Forster, during Captain Cook's voyages in 1777, as Procellaria nivea. Also a skin was procured by Cook, who noted this in his own account.

There are two subspecies. They differ in size, the greater form having a stouter, larger beak. The subspecies may hybridise.

The snow petrel breeds exclusively in Antarctica and has the most southernly breeding distribution of any bird. Breeding occurs in colonies on the Antarctic Peninsula, the Antarctic continent and various Antarctic islands. Nesting occurs in small to large colonies on cliffs, usually near the sea. The birds return to breeding sites from the mid-September until early November. Nests are simple pebble-lined scrapes usually in a deep rock crevices with overhanging protection. One white egg is laid in late November to mid-December. The egg is incubated for 41 to 49 days and the chick is brooded for 8 days. They fledge 7 weeks later in late February to mid-May.

Snow Petrels feed mainly on fish, some cephalopods, mollusks and krill as well as carrion.

During the winter they disperse to the pack ice, ice floes and the open sea. Flocks are characteristically seen sitting on icebergs. Only very rarely are they observed north of the pack ice.

Like many petrels these birds squirt waxy, yellowish stomach oil at nest intruders. This oil stinks of fish and is extremely difficult to remove. They are known to live 14 to 20 years.

— Greytown, 2008

Sub Species:
nivea, minor.

Other common names:  — 

Pagrodroma nivea confusa, Procellaria nivea,

Description:  — 

Native bird

35cm, 325g, pure white petrel, coal-black eyes, small black bill and bluish gray feet.

Where to find:  — 

In the NZ region, breeds at Balleny Islands, and around the Ross Sea, never reaches NZ mainland.

Illustration description: — 


John Cassin, United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842, Charles Wilkes, 1858.

Reference(s): — 


Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2000.

Oliver, W.R.B., New Zealand Birds, 1955.

Readers Digest Complete Book of NZ Birds, 1985.

Page date & version: — 


Saturday, 31 May 2014; ver2009v1


©  2008    Narena Olliver,    new zealand birds limited,     Greytown, New Zealand.