In the often freezing and windy conditions of South Georgia and Antarctica, there are numerous of hardy bird species that call this environment home. While it is challenging, these birds have adapted to the habitat and continue to thrive in huge numbers.
As an explorer on one of Aurora’s Antarctica voyages, you’ll get the opportunity to witness many of these species in full flight or up close and personal from our main ship or a Zodiac boat. The Antarctic and South Georgia birdlife is unique and many species are found nowhere else in the world. This highlights the value of our onboard birdlife experts who can provide key information about what you spot flying across the sky. Read on to find out about the various species you can see while birdwatching with Aurora Expeditions.
As one of the largest great albatross species, the Wandering albatross can have a wingspan of more than three metres when fully grown. Found across South Georgia where pairs breed, the Wandering albatross is identified by its mostly white and black body with pinkish, salmon-coloured bill. However, with a global population of fewer than 8,000, this is a species that we need to respect and protect for the future.
While the Wandering albatross is mostly silent when flying at sea, those with a keen ear during birdwatching can sometimes pick up a high-pitched trumpeting call and other noises near breeding grounds.
With its striking black cap, white body and bright red bill and feet, the Antarctic Tern is one of the more visually-stunning birds that you might see on your adventure. The medium-sized bird frequents many of the subantarctic islands across the region, breeding on-shore between September and April.
Antarctic Terns usually breed as a colony, but isolated pairs can often be spotted on bare rocky outcrops and gravel areas of island – with their colour combination standing out against the background!
The gull-like Skua is one of the top avian predators in the subantarctic, making it a popular spot on your Aurora Expedition journey. With its 1.5-metre broad point wings, the Skua can be identified by its brown colouring and white outerwing patch. While Skuas are smaller than albatrosses, their aggressive nature through high speed pursuits at sea can often force larger birds to abandon their food.
Skuas spend most of their time at sea but will perch on exposed headlands and open ground during the breeding season – improving your chances of spotting this predator.
Wilsons Storm Petrel
As its name suggests, the Wilsons Storm Petrel is a seabird that lives mostly off the coast of the Antarctic shelf. The mostly black birds feature two special visual characteristics that allow for quick identification against the dark ocean – a white band across its rump and a grey band on its upperwing.
The Wilsons Storm Petrel is one of the most common birds in Antarctica with several million breeding pairs across the region.
Antarctic Blue-eyed cormorant
Also known as the Imperial or Blue-eyed shag, the cormorant is visually very different to other birds spotted in Antarctica. Firstly, it can appear to have vivid blue eyes, but this is just the colouring of the region surrounding the eye. Secondly, cormorants have an orange/yellow growth at the base of the beak which grows larger and brighter during its breeding season.
Cormorant chicks are also born without down which makes them susceptible to harsh weather conditions and wind. As such, their parents protect them in sheltered nests for a time after their hatching.
If there was one bird on this list that would follow the Aurora Expedition ship, it would be the Cape Petrel. Known to track ships, the sea scavengers form dense flocks out at sea either around fishing boats or near large numbers of crustaceans. Of course, you will probably hear the Cape Petrel before you see it, as they produce loud cackling and chirring calls while fighting for food.
If you are lucky enough to spot a Cape Petrel, you will notice its brown, white and black chequered colouring and black head.
Southern Giant Petrel
The larger and more aggressive cousin of the Cape Petrel is the Southern Giant Petrel. Reaching the size of a small albatross, the bird spends much of its time at sea, but can be found on the South Georgia Islands during the breeding season.
The Southern Giant Petrel can take one of two colour morphs depending on its genetic makeup, with 90 percent of the birds dark grey-brown and 10 percent white.
Apart from penguins, the Pink-faced Sheathbill is the only land bird native to Antarctica. Living along rocky reefs both on the continent and surrounding islands, they are often described as a cross between a pigeon and a hen. The small, plump, white birds feature a pink trim around their faces which protects them from bitter environmental conditions.
If the weather does get too cold, the birds have also been known to hop on one leg across the snow in order to maintain body temperature.