Macronectes giganteusThe Southern Giant Petrel, known locally as the ‘Stinker’, occurs throughout the year around all Falkland coasts, The Falkland Islands is the world's most important breeding location for this bird, holding a substantial proportion of the world population at about 20,000 pairs (Census of the Southern Giant-Petrel Population of the Falkland Islands, 2004-05 (1.8Mb PDF)). They breed in 38 locations, the majority around the south of Falkland Sound and to the west of West Falkland. The largest colony is on Sandy Cay, in the Elephant Cays Group (531kb PDF), with 10,936 breeding pairs.
It is classified as Near Threatened by BirdLife International and is protected under the international Agreement for the Protection of Albatrosses and Petrels. Commercial fisheries are known to have brought about reductions in population in some localities.
Southern Giant Petrels are large birds, similar in size to the Black–browed Albatross, with a wingspan of 200 cm (6ft 6ins). However they appear rather stiff winged and clumsy. Adults have mainly white heads and whitish necks, which contrast with grey-brown body and wings. There is a pale phase where the bird is almost completely white with a few dark spots on the plumage. It is closely related to the Northern Giant Petrel, but instead of a pinkish-yellow bill, has a cream-coloured bill with greenish tip.
They breed in colonies in the open on coastal slopes and on low flat ground, returning to the same colony each year in September. Incubating birds are very sensitive to disturbance and must not be approached closely or startled, particularly when predators are in the vicinity. A large single white egg is laid in late October. Incubation lasts 58-60 days, and the young fledge in late March. They take seven years to complete the changes to adult plumage. For more information on breeding sites and their protection go to: Albatross and Petrel Breeding Sites in the Falkland Islands: Suggested Guidelines for Landowners (1119kb PDF).
Photos: Alan Henry, Tim Mason, Sarah Crofts.