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Common Name: Snow Petrel
Scientific Name: Pagodroma nivea  

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Procellariiformes

Family: Procellariidae

Genus: Pagodroma

Species: P. nivea


When most people think of Antarctic birds, they normally think of penguins. What about Pagodroma nivea, the snow petrel?  It is also an ice-loving bird. Snow petrels have strange characteristics, and even stranger behavior. What other bird can spit its foul-smelling stomach oil at predators!

The snow petrel was first discovered by Georg Foster during Cook’s third voyage. The bird’s white body and black eyes must have fascinated him. Though these birds only live 14-20 years, these birds are truly beautiful and share unique characteristics. Like other birds in the order Procellariiformes, they have tubular extensions of their nostrils. 1 Speaking of noses, they also have nasal passages that attach to the upper bill. 1 This bill is split into seven to nine plates. 1 This bird has odd characteristics indeed!

Not only does this bird live in Antarctica, it only also BREEDS in Antarctica. In fact, it may have the most southernly breeding distribution of any bird. These birds make their pebble-lined nests in rock crevices.  In November to December, these birds lay one egg at a time. In about 40-50 days, a cute little snow petrel chick will be born.  Guess what these petrel chicks feed on? They feed on the stomach oil of their mothers! The stomach oil is also used as defense from predators. 

 When the chicks get to be a little bit older, they begin to feed on marine life, such as fish. They also feed on mollusks and crustaceans, like cephalopods and krill. Because of this, snow petrels must be near the sea. Salt glands help desalinate their bodies after diving in the salty ocean to catch the fish. 1 Eventually, the snow petrel will start looking for a mate. Normally, to win the female’s heart, the male has to follow the female as she soars and swerves around cliffs and rock faces. 2 If he succeeds, the male and female will mate and the circle of life will begin again.

From its anatomy to its mating rituals, this bird is truly unique. It is so unique that it has tubular nostrils!  Ever since Georg Foster discovered this beautiful bird, its grace has kept everyone in awe as it soars across the sky. The snow petrel is the most magnificent arctic bird.

Author: Quinn C.
Published: 3/2010

Source List:



3)    Burnie, David. Animal The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife. New York: DK ADULT, 2005. Page 271. Print.


Photo Credit:





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