Snow Petrels have a huge range and a global population estimated at four million. The species is not at risk in the short term. Longer term disruption of the Antarctic environment as a result of climate change will reduce habitat and alter prey availability, and will probably have a detrimental impact on this species.
Amazing Snow Petrels
Snow Petrels are striking pigeon-sized birds with brilliant pure white plumage and black eyes and beaks. Huge flocks are a common sight on Antarctic icebergs and ice floes.
They are long-lived birds known to reach 20 years of age. In September they arrive in breeding grounds that may be as far as 200 km inland. Males and females perform spectacular aerial manoeuvres during courtship. Once formed, these pair bonds can remain in place for life.
Females each lay a single egg in a rock crevice. The chicks hatch in January, and both parents rear their young, flying back to the ocean to collect food. The vile-smelling stomach oil that Snow Petrels produce to feed their young is also a useful deterrent squirted at intruders that approache the nest. Parental care continues until the chicks fledge. The death rate of chicks is quite high, especially during extreme weather. The chicks and adults are also hunted by Skuas, large birds related to gulls.
Snow Petrels migrate to slightly warmer areas over winter. They hunt fish by flying low over water and snatching prey from the surface. A significant part of their diet is krill caught from cracks in the sea ice.