SOUTHERN GIANT PETREL (Macronectes giganteus)
The southern giant petrel, at almost three feet long, is a formidable bird of prey. It goes by names such as ‘stink pot’, ‘sea vulture’, and ‘glutton’, which are illustrative of its status on the southern seas. It is the largest species of petrel. It is a scavenger, and is considered as aggressive. When given the opportunity, it will prey on albatross and penguin chicks.
NOTES: Petrels are part of an order of birds that includes seabirds with a ‘tubenose’ bill. This highly specialized bill is made of plates and the nostrils are inside one of them in the shape of a ‘tube’. These birds drink seawater, and they have glands in their bill to extract the salt from the water. Their nostrils also have a self-defensive feature – when threatened they can spit out a foul-smelling oil from that organ.
There is a striking scene in the movie The March of the Penguins (directed by Luc Jacquet) where a southern giant petrel goes after an orphaned penguin chick and other petrels are coming to help, and they are successful at eating the chick among the adult Emperor penguins in the colony, who seem totally powerless to rescue the doomed chick from its fate. Given its behavior and its position in the food chain, that petrel is not threatened.