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Southern Giant Petrel Macronectes giganteus
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Recent analysis of trend data for the global population over the past three generations (64 years) gives a best case estimate of a 17 % increase and a worst case scenario of a 7.2 % decline (Chown et al 2008 to SCAR); declines consequently do not approach the threshold for classification as Vulnerable and the species has been downlisted from Near Threatened to Least Concern.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
Brooke, M. de L. 2004. Albatrosses and Petrels Across the World. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Christidis, L.; Boles, W. E. 2008. Systematics and taxonomy of Australian birds. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.
SACC. 2006. A classification of the bird species of South America. Available at: #
Turbott, E. G. 1990. Checklist of the birds of New Zealand. Ornithological Society of New Zealand, Wellington.

87 cm. Very large petrel with huge bill. White morph unmistakable, normally flecked black. Dark morph has sooty-black juvenile, becoming paler with age. Adult has off-white head, neck, upper breast. Rest of plumage mottled greyish-brown, with paler feather along leading edge of wing. Pale bases to underside of inner primaries. All ages, pale pea-green tip to yellowish bill. Can appear uniform at sea. Grey-brown legs. Similar spp. Same size as smaller albatrosses, but has huge bill, shorter narrower wings and humpbacked shape. Adult Northern Giant-petrel M. halli has red-brown tip to bill, and lacks pale leading edge to wing.

Distribution and population
Macronectes giganteus breeds on the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), Staten Island and islands off Chubut Province (Argentina), South Georgia (Georgias del Sur), the South Orkney (Orcadas del Sur) and South Shetland Islands (Shetland del Sur), islands near the Antarctic Continent and Peninsula, Prince Edward Islands (South Africa), Crozet Islands (French Southern Territories), Heard Island and Macquarie Island (Australia), with smaller populations on Gough Island, Tristan da Cunha (St Helena to UK), Diego Ramirez and Isla Noir (Chile), Kerguelen Islands (French Southern Territories), and four localities on the Antarctic Continent including Terre Adélie. In the 1980s, the population was estimated at 38,000 pairs (Hunter 1985), declining by 18% to 31,000 pairs in the late 1990s (Rootes 1988). Populations at Heard and Macquarie declined 50% between the 1960s and late 1980s (Woehler 1991, Woehler 2006). Many Antarctic Peninsula populations decreased to the mid-1980s (e.g. >50% at Signy, South Orkneys) (Patterson et al. undated). The population at Terre Adélie declined from c.80 pairs in the 1960s to 10-15 pairs in 2000. However, recent data indicate a number of populations have stabilised or increased, e.g. Possession Island (Crozet) (Patterson et al. undated), Gough Island (Cuthbert and Sommer in litt 2004)and Heard Island (Woehler 2006). A comprehensive 2004-2005 survey of all breeding colonies on the Falkland Islands recorded 19,523 breeding pairs (Reid and Huin 2005). This represents a dramatic increase over the previous estimate of 5,000-10,000 pairs in the Falkland Islands, and is thought to represent a combination of improved knowledge and a genuine population increase. Similarly, a comprehensive survey of all known breeding sites in the South Georgia archipelago, between 2005 and 2006, indicates a population increase since the 1980s (Poncet et al. in litt. 2008), and the global population is now estimated at c.54,000 breeding pairs (Chown et al. unpubl. report 2008). Data from birds tracked from South Georgia indicate that breeders remain in the same ocean sector during the nonbreeding season (Hunter and Brooke 1982). By comparison, ringing recoveries suggest that juveniles disperse much more widely (Hunter 1984b). Males and females have distinct foraging ranges during the breeding season (Gonzalez-Solis and Croxall 2005).

Population justification
A total of 46,800 pairs and approaching 100,000 mature individuals (roughly equating to 150,000 total individuals) can be estimated from Patterson et al. (in press) and unpublished data from Falklands Conservation and British Antarctic Survey. This consists of an estimated 19,500 pairs on the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), 5,500 pairs on South Georgia (Georgias del Sur), 5,400 pairs on South Shetland Islands (Shetland del Sur), 3,350 pairs on South Orkney Island (Orcadas del Sur) (British Antarctic Survey unpubl. data), 2,500 pairs on Heard and MacDonald Islands (DPIW unpubl. data), 2,145 pairs on Macquarie Island, 2,300 pairs in South America, 2,300 pairs on the Tristan da Cunha Islands, 280 pairs on the Antarctic Continent. In addition, Patterson et al. (in litt. undated) estimate 1,190 pairs on the Antarctic Peninsula, 1,550 pairs on the South Sandwich Islands, 1,800 pairs on Prince Edward Islands, 1,060 pairs on Iles Crozet and four pairs in Iles Kerguelen.

Trend justification
Recent trends are variable, with some populations continuing to decline (British Antarctic Survey unpubl. data; Patterson et al. undated), some stable (Gonzalez-Solis and Croxall 2005) and others showing substantial increases, including populations on Patagonia (Quintana et al. 2006) and Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) (Reid and Huin 2005) and a soon to be published study of the South Georgia population (Poncet et al. in litt. 2008). Importantly, the latter populations represent the two largest populations in the world, and the overall global trend is now increasing. Combining trend data for both regions (north and south of 60°S) gives a best estimate of a 17 % increase and a worst case scenario of a 7.2 % decline over the past three generations (64 years) (Chown et al 2008 to SCAR), and it is precautionarily assumed here to have undergone a slow decline during this period.

It typically nests in loose colonies on grassy or bare ground. However, in the Falkland Islands it can nest in large, relatively dense colonies (Reid and Huin 2005). Average age of first breeding is c.10 years, and mean adult annual survival at South Georgia is 90% (Hunter 1984a). It feeds on carrion, cephalopods, krill, offal, discarded fish and refuse from ships, often feeding near trawlers and longliners (Hunter and Brooke 1982, Hunter 1983). Males and females exhibit clearly defined spatial segregation in their foraging ranges (Gonzalez-Solis et al. 2000, Quintana and Dell' Arciprete 2002, BirdLife International 2004).

A total of 2,000-4,000 giant-petrels were estimated killed in illegal or unregulated Southern Ocean longline fisheries for Patagonian toothfish Dissostichus eleginoides in 1997-1998 (CCAMLR 1997, CCAMLR 1998) and the species has been shown to be killed in trawl fisheries in the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) (Sullivan et al. 2006). However, improved mitigation in many longline fisheries appears to have reduced bycatch levels of this species around some breeding colonies (Quintana et al. 2006). Localised decreases have also been attributed to reductions in southern elephant seal Mirounga leonina (an important source of carrion), human disturbance and persecution (Hunter 1984a, P. G. Ryan in litt. 1999, Pfeiffer and Peters 2006).

Conservation Actions Underway
CMS Appendix II and ACAP Annex 1. It is monitored at South Georgia, Marion, Crozet and Macquarie Islands, and at Terre Adélie. Several breeding islands are nature reserves; Gough and Macquarie are World Heritage Sites. The population at Gough Island was censused in 2000-2001, and again in 2003, and a monitoring protocol has been devised (Cuthbert and Sommer 2004). Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue monitoring. Conduct surveys of major breeding sites. Minimise disturbance at breeding sites. Research movements and migration. Promote adoption of best-practice mitigation measures in all fisheries within its range, particularly via existing and proposed intergovernmental mechanisms under auspices of CCAMLR, CMS and FAO.

Related state of the world's birds case studies

BirdLife International. 2004. Tracking ocean wanderers: the global distribution of albatrosses and petrels. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

CCAMLR. 1997. Report of the XVI meeting of the Scientific Committee.

CCAMLR. 1998. Report of the XVII meeting of the Scientific Committee.

Cuthbert, R. and Sommer, S. E. 2004. Gough Island bird monitoring manual. RSPB Research Report.

Gales, R.; Brothers, N.; Reid, T. 1998. Seabird mortality in the Japanese tuna longline fishery around Australia, 1988-1995. Biological Conservation 86: 37-56.

González-Solís, J.; Croxall, J. P.; Wood, A. G. 2000. Foraging partitioning between giant petrels Macronectes spp. and its relationship with breeding population changes at Bird Island, South Georgia. Marine Ecology Progress Series 204: 279-288.

Gonzalez-Solis, J.; Croxall, J. P. 2005. Differences in foraging behaviour and feeding ecology in giant petrels. In: Ruckstuhl, K.E.; Neuhaus, P. (ed.), Sexual segregation in vertebrates: ecology of the two sexes, pp. 92-111. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K.

Harrison, P. 1985. Seabirds: an identification guide. Christopher Helm, London.

Hunter, S. 1983. The food and feeding ecology of the giant petrels Macronectes halli and M. giganteus at South Georgia. Journal of Zoology (London) 200: 521-538.

Hunter, S. 1984. Movements of South Georgia giant petrels Macronectes spp. ringed at South Georgia. Ringing & Migration 5(2): 105-112.

Hunter, S. 1984b. Breeding biology and population dynamics of giant petrels Macronectes at South Georgia (Aves: Procellariiformes). Journal of Zoology (London) 203: 441-460.

Hunter, S. 1985. The role of giant petrels in the Southern Ocean ecosystem. In: Siegfried, W.R.; Condy, P.R.; Laws, P.R. (ed.), Antarctic nutrient cycles and food webs, pp. 534-542. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

Hunter, S.; Brooke, M. de. L. 1992. The diet of giant petrels Macronectes spp. at Marion Island, southern Indian Ocean. Colonial Waterbirds 15: 56-65.

Patterson, D. L.; Fraser, W. R. 2003. Satellite tracking Southern Giant Petrels at Palmer Station, Antarctica. Microwave Telemetry, Inc. Newsletter 8: 3-4.

Patterson, D. L.; Woehler, E.J.; Croxall, J. P.; Cooper, J.; Poncet, S.; Fraser, W. R. 2008. Breeding distribution and population status of the Northern Giant Petrel Macronectes halli and Southern Giant Petrel M. giganteus. Marine Ornithology 36: 115-124.

Pfeiffer, S.; Peter, H.-U. 2006. Effects of human activities on Southern Giant Petrels and skuas in the Antarctic. Journal of Ornithology 147(5): 229.

Quintana, F.; Dell'Arciprete, O. P. 2002. Foraging grounds of southern giant petrels (Macronectes giganteus) on the Patagonian Shelf. Polar Biology 25: 159-161.

Quintana, F.; Punta, G.; Copello, S.; Yorio, P. 2006. Population status and trends of Southern Giant Petrels (Macronectes giganteus) breeding in North Patagonia, Argentin. Polar Biology 30(1): 53-59.

Reid, T.; Huin, N. 2005. Census of the Giant-petrel population of the Falkland Islands. Falklands Conservation Newsletter: 1-2.

Rootes, D. M. 1988. The status of birds at Signy Island, South Orkney Islands. British Antarctic Survey Bulletin 80: 87-119.

Sullivan, B.J.; Reid, T. A.; Bugoni, L. 2006. Seabird mortality on factory trawlers in the Falkland Islands and beyond. Biological Conservation 131: 495-504.

Woehler, E. J. 1991. Status and conservation of the seabirds of Heard Island and the McDonald Islands. In: Croxall, J.P. (ed.), Seabird status and conservation: a supplement, pp. 263-275. International Council for Bird Preservation, Cambridge, U.K.

Woehler, E. J. 2006. Status and conservation of the seabirds of Heard Island and the McDonald Islands. Heard Island, Southern Ocean Sentinel, pp. 128-165. Surrey Beatty & Sons, Chipping Norton, U.K.

Woehler, E. J.; Auman, H. J.; Riddle, M. J. 2002. Long-term population increase of Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophrys at Heard Island, 1947/1948-2000/2001. Polar Biology 25: 921-927.

Further web sources of information
Additional information is available on the distribution of the Southern Giant-petrel from the Global Procellariiform Tracking Database (

Australian Govt - Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000 - Recovery Outline

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Stattersfield, A., Shutes, S., Butchart, S., Sullivan, B., Bird, J., Symes, A., Black, A.

Croxall, J., Cooper, J., Ryan, P.G., Hilton, G., Bretagnolle, V., Phillips, R., Patterson-Fraser, D., Fraser, W., Deliry, C., Pistorius, P., Keys, H.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Macronectes giganteus. Downloaded from on 28/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 28/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Southern giant petrel (Macronectes giganteus) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Least Concern
Family Procellariidae (Petrels, Shearwaters)
Species name author (Gmelin, 1789)
Population size 65000-100000 mature individuals
Population trend Increasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 94,700,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species