Southern Giant Petrel (Macronectes giganteus)

Southern Giant Petrel

[order] PROCELLARIIFORMES | [family] Procellariidae | [latin] Macronectes giganteus | [authority] Gmelin, 1789 | [UK] Southern Giant Petrel | [FR] Fulmar geant | [DE] Riesen-Sturmvogel | [ES] Abanto marino Antartico | [NL] Zuidelijke Reuzenstormvogel


Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Macronectes giganteus SO, AN widespread


Fulmars are a distinct but diverse group of petrels that evolved from an early split from the ancient tubenose lineage, around 15 My ago. Some calculated a much earlier evolution of the fulmars, more than 26 My ago or placed the origin of the fulmarines in late Oligocene > 23 My ago.
Most species of this group occur in the Southern Hemisphere. Fulmarus glacialis is the only northern representative. Although there is a great difference in size, bill shape, colouring and behaviour, the members of this group show strong similarities in their skeletal structure. The differences are very much related to the environment they occupy and their respective foraging strategies. The enourmous hooked bill of the Giant Petrel (Macronectes) is the perfect tool for this ‘vulture of the southern seas’. The small bill of the Snow Petrel (Pagodroma) and the relative broad bill of the Cape Pigeon (Daption) are each good examples of the variety of feeding strategies on the other end of the spectrum. The ‘true’ Fulmars (Fulmarus) and the Antarctic Petrel (Thalassoica) take a position somewhere in between.

Physical charateristics

Very large petrel with huge bill. White morph unmistakable, normally flecked black. Dark morph has sooty-black juvenile, becoming paler with age. Adult has off-white head, neck, upper breast. Rest of plumage mottled greyish-brown, with paler feather along leading edge of wing. Pale bases to underside of inner primaries. All ages, pale pea-green tip to yellowish bill. Can appear uniform at sea. Grey-brown legs. Same size as smaller albatrosses, but has huge bill, shorter narrower wings and humpbacked shape. Adult Northern Giant-petrel M. halli has red-brown tip to bill, and lacks pale leading edge to wing

Listen to the sound of Southern Giant Petrel

[audio: Giant Petrel.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 185 cm wingspan max.: 205 cm
size min.: 86 cm size max.: 99 cm
incubation min.: 55 days incubation max.: 66 days
fledging min.: 104 days fledging max.: 132 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 1  


Southern Ocean, Antarctica : widespread. Macronectes giganteus breeds on the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), Staten Island and islands off Chubut Province (Argentina), South Georgia (Georgias del Sur), the South Orkney (Orcadas del Sur) and South Shetland Islands (Shetland del Sur), islands near the Antarctic Continent and Peninsula, Prince Edward Islands (South Africa), Crozet Islands (French Southern Territories), Heard Island and Macquarie Island (Australia), with smaller Pacific Oceanpulations on Gough Island, Tristan da Cunha (St Helena to UK), Diego Ramirez and Isla Noir (Chile), Kerguelen Islands (French Southern Territories), and four localities on the Antarctic Continent including Terre Adelie


It typically nests in loose colonies on grassy or bare ground. However, in the Falkland Islands it can nest in large, relatively dense colonies


They breed in colonies in the open on coastal slopes and on low flat ground, returning to the same colony each year in September. Incubating birds are very sensitive to disturbance and must not be approached closely or startled, particularly when predators are in the vicinity. A large single white egg is laid in late October. Incubation lasts 58-60 days, and the young fledge in late March. They take seven years to complete the changes to adult plumage.

Feeding habits

Southern Giant Petrels are scavengers, and their presence can be a good indicator of beach strandings. They will feed on penguin, seal, whale or sheep carcasses and follow ships for refuse. They will also kill or disable seabirds and take young penguins and eggs. They also surface-feed on squid, krill and fish.

Video Southern Giant Petrel


copyright: Laurent Demongin


Recent analysis of trend data for the global population over the past three generations (64 years) gives a best case estimate of a 17 % increase and a worst case scenario of a 7.2 % decline (Chown et al 2008 to SCAR); declines consequently do not approach the threshold for classification as Vulnerable and the species has been downlisted from Near Threatened to Least Concern.
A total of 2,000-4,000 giant-petrels were estimated killed in illegal or unregulated Southern Ocean longline fisheries for Patagonian toothfish Dissostichus eleginoides in 1997-1998
Southern Giant Petrel status Least Concern


Adults probably move little, dispersing only to adjacent waters and generally keeping further S than M. halli; juveniles may follow prevailing winds E around Southern Ocean. Immatures move further N than adults, regularly reaching tropics and typically following cold water currents off S Africa and W South America. Only definite record from N Hemisphere is 1 bird off Ushant, France, in Nov 1967; another giant petrel at Midway Atoll, Hawaii, in 1959, 1961 and 1962 not identified to specific level.

Distribution map

Southern Giant Petrel distribution range map

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *