Snow Petrel

Snow Petrel

Pagodroma nivea
Population size
over 4 mln
Life Span
14-20 yrs
40 km/h
200-460 g
36-41 cm
76-79 cm

The Snow petrel is one of only three bird species that breed in Antarctica. This small but beautiful seabird is pure white in color and has black underdown, coal-black eyes, small black bill, and bluish-gray feet.


Snow petrels breed on the Antarctic Peninsula and various Antarctic islands which include South Sandwich Islands, Géologie Archipelago, South Georgia Islands, and other islands of the Scotia Arc. Some birds remain at the colony all year, while others range north at sea and return at the colonies from mid-September until early November. Snow petrels are almost entirely restricted to cold Antarctic waters; they frequently roost on icebergs and nest on cliffs, usually near the sea, but also inland.


Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Snow petrels are gregarious birds. During the winter, they disperse to the pack ice, ice floes, and the open sea where flocks are often seen sitting on icebergs. Snow petrels are agile fliers that hunt by day; they fly close to the surface and may make shallow dives to catch their prey. They may even feed together with whales and other petrels. Snow petrels are usually silent when at sea, but will communicate with twittering calls when fishing in flocks. They also cluck, screech, and make harsh, guttural sounds when on land.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Snow petrels are carnivores (piscivores) and scavengers. They feed mainly on fish, some cephalopods, mollusks, and krill, as well as carrion in the form of seal placentas, dead/stillborn seals, whale carcasses, and dead penguin chicks.

Mating Habits

late October-mid December
41-49 days
8 weeks
1 egg

Snow petrels are monogamous and once paired partners are faithful for life. The breeding season starts in late October-early November and eggs are usually laid between late November and mid-December. Snow petrels nest in small to large colonies on cliffs. Nests are simple pebble-lined scrapes usually in deep rock crevices with overhanging protection. The female lays one white egg which is incubated 41 to 49 days. Once hatched the chick is brooded for 8 days and fledges 7 weeks later in late February to mid-May.


Population threats

Snow petrels are widespread throughout their range and not considered threatened at present. However, in the future, these birds may suffer from climate change that will reduce the sea-ice cover and may cause a decrease of prey in some areas.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the total Snow petrel population size is over 4,000,000 individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The Snow petrel is the only member of the genus Pagodroma, and a member of the subfamily fulmarine petrels.
  • The word "petrel" is derived from Peter the Apostle and the story of his walking on water. This is in reference to the petrel's habit of appearing to run on the water in order to take off.
  • Snow petrels produce a stomach oil that can be sprayed out of their mouths as a defense against predators. It can also be used as an energy-rich food source for the chicks and for the adults during their long flights.
  • Snow petrels have a salt gland situated above the nasal passage which helps desalinate their bodies, due to the high amount of ocean water that they imbibe. It excretes a high saline solution from their nostrils.
  • During the breeding season, when Snow petrels are far from the sea they clean themselves by bathing in the snow.


1. Snow Petrel on Wikipedia -
2. Snow Petrel on The IUCN Red List site -

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