Snow Petrel

Pagodroma nivea

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Museum specimen featured in the Wild exhibition
Source: Museum Victoria

Snow Petrel
Image: Chris Knights
Source: Ardea

Type: bird

Snow Petrel Snow Petrel
Image: Chris Knights
Source: Ardea

Conservation Status

Secure Vulnerable Endangered Extinct  ]

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.



Snow Petrels are carnivores.

They eat mainly fish, molluscs, krill and carrion.


Snow Petrel relative size depiction as described below

Size relative to a sparrow and a cat.

200–300 g
about 35 cm
75–95 cm

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.

Did You Know?

Snow Petrels

  • breed in colonies of many hundreds to thousands of birds
  • fly low over water, but high over land to avoid predators
  • defend their nests by throwing up on intruders


Snow Petrel distribution map

Found in Antarctica and nearby islands. Associated with sea ice around the Antarctic coast.


Other animals from the Antarctic

Southern Elephant SealEmperor Penguin