Grey-headed Albatross Thalassarche chrysostoma ©Glenn Bartley Website
Birding Antarctica

Antarctica used to be thought of as a frozen wasteland where nothing lived or grew and which was too cold for anything to survive. Now it is recognised as one of the last great wildernesses which needs protection from exploitation or its very delicate eco-systems will topple. The cold waters abound with micro-organisms and tiny crustacea such as krill that attract higher animals. The bird life can be impressive and abundant in places and, of course, the penguins are a sight to behold. The following introduction was supplied in February 2002.

Introduction: Most people know Antarctica as a bitterly cold wasteland with nothing but rock and ice. Antarctic however, has a rich and diverse spread of animal life, the best known of which are the penguins and whales. The cold Antarctic waters provide a nutrient rich environment which sustains a long and complex food chain, the basis of which is plankton and krill.

Getting there:Antarctic was less then 200 years ago, and getting to Antarctica remains a challenge today. The two main gateways to the frozen continent are Ushuaia, Argentina and Christchurch, New Zealand. Ushuaia is the closest with a distance of 1000km from the Antarctic Peninsula. Due to its proximity and the wealth of animal life in the Peninsula, Ushuaia is Antarctica’s biggest tourist hub. Being in the Tierra del Fuego makes it a good spot for birders to start spotting.

Birding:A typical tourist voyage to the Antarctic Peninsula involves a ship voyage in the open sea from Ushuaia down the Beagle Channel and across the Drake Passage (2 days). This part of the voyage is lost to most visitors, but to birders it is a great opportunity to spot species like kelp gulls, terns, shearwaters, cormorants, petrels, prions, albatross (mainly Royal, Wandering, Black Browed and Grey Headed); fulmars etc.

Once in the Peninsula, one can get up close to several of these species particularly during landings to various islands or the continent itself. Penguins colonies are particularly popular with tourists allowing one to get to within 3 meters (IAATO rules) of the animals. The most commonly sighted species of bird sighted by tourists during landings are penguins (Adelie, Gentoo, Chinstrap, and sometimes Emperor, rockhopper and Macaroni); Sheathbills and Skua.

Other Animals:Other animals that one should look out for are seals (Leopard, Weddel, Crabeater etc); and whales (Fin, Humpback, Killer, Minke, Southern Right etc).

Tour Information:Since Antarctica is given special environmental protection by international law, tourism is a topic of much debate. Tourism in Antarctica is overseen by Members of IAATO who comply to strict rules and standards which are aimed at making tourist visits to Antarctica as environmentally friendly as possible. You can find information various tours to Antarctica with relevant info about the tour and operators, here.

This page is sponsored by Rockjumper Birding Tours

  • Brendon Grunewald


  • iGoTerra Checklist for Antarctica

    Fatbirder Associate iGoTerra offers the most comprehensive and up to date birds lists on the web
  • iGoTerra Checklist for French Southern Territories

    French Southern Territories
    Fatbirder Associate iGoTerra offers the most comprehensive and up to date birds lists on the web
  • iGoTerra Checklist for South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands

    South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
    Fatbirder Associate iGoTerra offers the most comprehensive and up to date birds lists on the web
  • iGoTerra Checklist for South Orkney Islands

    South Orkney Islands
    Fatbirder Associate iGoTerra offers the most comprehensive and up to date birds lists on the web
  • iGoTerra Checklist of Bouvet Island (sub-antarctic Norwegian dependency)

    Bouvet Island
    Fatbirder Associate iGoTerra offers the most comprehensive and up to date birds lists on the web
Useful Reading

  • A Complete Guide to Antarctic Wildlife

    | (The Birds and Marine Mammals of the Antarctic Continent and the Southern Ocean) | By Hadoram Shirihai & Brett Jarrett | A & C Black | 2007 (Edition 2) | Hardback | 544 pages, 920 photos, 35 plates | ISBN: 9780713664065 Buy this book from
  • A Field Guide to the Wildlife of South Georgia

    | Edited by Robert Burton & John Croxall | WILDGuides | 2012 | Paperback | 200 pages, 368 colour photos, 1 colour map | ISBN: 9780691156613 Buy this book from
  • Birds of Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego and Antarctic Peninsula

    | (The Falkland Islands and South Georgia) | By E Couve and C Vidal | Fantastico Sur | 2003 | Paperback | 656 pages, 200 colour photos, distrib maps | ISBN: 9789568007041 Buy this book from
  • Birds of Southern South America and Antarctica

    | By Martín R de la Peña, Maurice Rumboll, Gustavo Carrizo, Aldo A Chiappe, Luis Huber & Jorge R Rodriguez Mata | Princeton University Press | 2001 | Paperback | 304 pages, 97 plates with colour illustrations, 5 plates with b/w illustrations; b/w illustrations, 1000+ b/w distribution maps | ISBN: 9780691090351 Buy this book from
Birding Aps
  • Antarctic Wildlife Guide app

    Apple iOS | Android
    | | 103.2 MB | Requires iOS 10.3 or later | Requires Android 4.0 and up |

    A guide to the birds, seals, dolphins and whales likely to be encountered on a voyage to the Antarctic Peninsula, The Falkland Islands and South Georgia. The area covered includes Ushuaia & Beagle Channel, the Drake Passage, the Antarctic Peninsula, the South Shetland Islands, South Orkney Islands, the Falkland Islands, and South Georgia.
Useful Information
  • Facts

    47 Bird Species; 1 Endemic.
  • ASOC - Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition

    Founded in 1978, ASOC is the only non-governmental organisation working full time to preserve the Antarctic continent and its surrounding Southern Ocean. A coalition of over 30 NGOs interested in Antarctic environmental protection, ASOC represents the environmental community at Antarctic governance meetings and works to promote important Antarctic conservation goals.
  • British Antarctic Survey

    Our Vision is to be a world-leading centre for polar science and polar operations, addressing issues of global importance and helping society adapt to a changing world.
  • International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO)

    A member organisation founded in 1991 to advocate and promote the practice of safe and environmentally responsible private-sector travel to the Antarctic.

Abbreviations Key

  • Antarctic Specially Protected Area

    InformationSatellite View
    An Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA) is an area on the continent of Antarctica, or on nearby islands, which is protected by scientists and several different international bodies. The protected areas were established in 1961 under the Antarctic Treaty System, which governs all the land and water south of 60 latitude and protects against human development. A permit is required for entry into any ASPA site. The ASPA sites are protected by the governments of Australia, New Zealand, United States, United Kingdom, Chile, France, Argentina, Poland, Russia, Norway, Japan, India, Italy, and Republic of Korea. There are 72 sites.
Guides & Tour Operators
  • Birding Ecotours

    Tour Operator
    Please contact us for details of Antarctic and Arctic birding cruises.Birding Ecotours aims to provide world-wide birding experiences of superb quality, while contributing to environmental conservation and disadvantaged communities. Please contact us for detailed information, queries and quotations as we are happy to help you in every aspect of planning your birding holiday.
  • International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO)

    Tour Operator
    IAATO is a member organization founded in 1991 to advocate, promote and practice safe and environmentally responsible private-sector travel to the Antarctic
  • Rockjumper

    Tour Operator
    South African company with a worldwide remit offering trips to Antarctica…
Trip Reports

Click on WAND to see Fatbirder’s Trip Report Repository…

  • 2014 [12 December] - Kristian Stahl & Roger Holmberg

    PDF Report
    A since long planned trip to the Antarctic finally starts. We are all in all eight Swedes from various parts of the country who decided to make this trip. Due to private reasons, one of the original eight did not participate. Roger and myself start the trip to Ushuaia...
  • 2016 [02 February] - Peregrine Rowse

    PDF Report
    It has been a dream of mine to go to the Antarctic for longer than I can remember. It owed more to Scott than Attenborough. The ‘we’ in this report is my wife, brother, sister in law and me. They are civilians; I was the only birder. There are of course many reports, mainly from bird tour companies, covering this route but I hope the comments below may be helpful to you in deciding if to go, when to go, where to go and how to go...
  • 2016 [12 December] - Dušan Brinkhuizen - The Falklands, South Georgia & Antarctica

    PDF Report
    ...Out of the crowds, we regularly picked out a “big boy”, the spectacular Southern Royal Albatross, of which we saw at least twenty. Slender-billed Prions started to appear in small numbers during the course of the day, and we also got our first Cape Petrels and Great Shearwaters. ....
  • 2017 [12 December] - Chris Lotz

    PDF Report
    What an incredible journey of a lifetime! The scenery was unbelievably spectacular. The birds were wonderful and included seven penguin species, Snow Petrel, many albatrosses including the most majestic of all, Wandering Albatross, along with the sleek, beautiful Light-mantled Albatross, and some rare, localised terrestrial birds such as South Georgia Pipit and Cobb’s Wren, and then of course all the sought-after birds of southernmost South America (Tierra del Fuego) such as Magellanic Woodpecker and the tricky White-bellied Seedsnipe.
  • 2017 [12 December] - Greg Smith

    PDF Report
    Annotated List
  • 2017 [12 December] - Holly Faithfull

    PDF Report
    Rockjumper’s Classic Antarctica II adventure started in Ushuaia, the most southerly city in the world. Late afternoon we boarded the Akademik Ioffe, a Russian research vessel, and our wonderfully stable home for this adventure to the south.
  • 2018 [11 November] - Mike Watson

    PDF Report
    On a windswept visit to the Southern Ocean and ultimately the white continent, Antarctica, we enjoyed some amazing wildlife spectacles in stunning surroundings. One of the main features of this tour is the opportunity for endless seabirding from the deck of MV Plancius and our highlights included Wandering, Southern and Northern Royal, Light-mantled (Sooty), Grey-headed and Blackbrowed Albatrosses. Other tubenoses included Southern and Northern Giant Petrels, Southern Fulmar, Antarctic, Cape, Snow, Blue, Atlantic, Soft-plumaged, White-headed and White-chinned Petrels as well as Antarctic and Slender-billed Prions and Sooty, Manx and Great Shearwaters.
  • 2019 [02 February] - Woody Wheeler

    PDF Report
    We spent a few hours in the quaint town of Port Stanley, with its impressive museum and well-preserved historical buildings, all with a distinct British appearance. Along the town shore we saw our first penguin of the trip, a Magellanic Penguin, along with a Chilean Skua, Kelp Goose and a Black-crowned Night Heron.
  • 2020 [03 March] - hans Meltofte

    PDF Report
    New Zealand – Auckland Islands – Campbell Island – Ross Sea – Amundsen Sea – Bellingshausen Sea – Peter I Island – Argentina – South Atlantic – Uruguay
  • 2022 [11 November] - Colin Reed

    PDF Report
    Falkland Islands – South Georgia – Weddell Peninsula – South Shetland Islands
  • 2022 [11 November] - John Carlson

    PDF Report
    We all gathered outside the domestic terminal at Azezia Airport in Buenos Aires, Argentina prior to boarding our flight to Puerto Madryn. The temperature in Buenos Aires was rather cool and pleasant. In between our visits and getting acquainted, a few of us wandered around the airport and found a few birds including breeding Monk Parakeets, Cattle Tyrants, Saffron Finches, Fork-tailed Flycatchers and a few rather striking goldenbreasted subspecies of Green-barred Woodpecker that were feeding on ants in a wooded field at the edge of the airport...
Other Links
  • Antarctic Birds

    Systematic List
  • Antarctic Birds

    "First you fall in love with Antarctica, and then it breaks your heart." — Kim Stanley Robinson, first line of his book Antarctica...
  • Antarctica Wildlife

  • Snow Petrels Pagodroma nivea

    Snow petrels are pure white birds with black beaks and eyes. They are the size of a pigeon and arguably the most beautiful of all the Antarctic birds…
  • Jim Wilson - Jim Wilson's Antarctic Blog

    This winter [2007-2008] spent six weeks in and around the Antarctic Peninsula.
Photographers & Artists
  • Photographer - Glenn Bartley

    World class photos from South Georgia

Fatbirder - linking birders worldwide... Wildlife Travellers see our sister site: WAND

Skip to content