Because Antarctica is the coldest and most arid continent, many people tend to believe it is a frozen, barren wasteland. However, the continent is actually home to a vast array of wildlife. The animals found here have adapted to these extreme conditions. Most of the plants and animals are concentrated around the coastlines and everything from fungi to plants and mammals to birds inhabit the area. This article takes a look at some of the birds that are native to Antarctica.
Native Birds of Antarctica
The emperor penguin is perhaps the most recognizable bird on the list. This species is white with a black back, wings, and head. Its throat is characterized by a pale yellow color that extends to around its ears. It is the heaviest and tallest of all penguins, reaching heights of 2 feet and weights of between 50 and 100 pounds. The emperor penguin is endemic to Antarctica and breeds during the winter season. The female lays one large egg that the male protects by holding it on his feet and covering it. Males do this in breeding colonies of thousands of other penguins while the females go out to sea in search of food. Their diet consists of fish and crustaceans. This bird species typically lives to be around 20 years old. The emperor penguin is listed as near threatened.
The Antarctic petrel inhabits the Antarctic Islands. They are brown with a white underbelly and bi-colored wings. They have a black bill and yellow feet. This bird can dive while swimming or from the air in order to catch its prey, which consists of krill, squid, and fish. The Antarctic petrel has a range of approximately 13.6 million square miles and a population size of between 10 million and 20 million adults. These large numbers mean that the bird is listed as least concern with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
South Polar Skua
The south polar skua grows to around 21 inches in length and is a grayish-brown color. Their head and underbelly have a slightly more yellowish-brown color. Its diet consists mainly of fish, although it has been known to eat other birds and small mammals. Often, the south polar skua steals food from other seabirds, such as the gull or tern. This bird species breeds along the coasts of Antarctica during November and December. It spends the winter months in the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans. Because of its large population size, the south polar skua is of least concern.
A more in-depth list of some of Antarctica’s native birds can be found below.
One of the biggest threats facing the bird species that live on, breed in, and migrate to Antarctica is climate change. Rapid climate change has resulted in drastic temperature changes of the waters off the coasts of the continent. These increased temperatures have affected the number of fish and other marine life that can be found here. Additionally, commercial fishing ventures have overfished the waters, depleting some marine life. These two activities have significantly reduced the availability of food for these bird species. Tourism is also a threat to the birds here. A human presence can disturb breeding habits and the behavior of chicks. This is particularly true for the emperor penguin which has recently been moved from least concerned to near threatened. In some regions, the emperor penguin population has been reduced by 50% and in other areas, they have completed disappeared. Some researchers believe this species could be close to extinction by 2100 due to the effects of global climate change.