How To Enjoy Bird Watching In Antarctica

Endless activities spring to mind when one considers a voyage to Antarctica: observing penguins, whale-watching, photographing sculpted icebergs, stunning vistas of seldom-visited shorelines where few humans have ever set foot. For some travelers, the first thing that springs to mind is: how do you enjoy bird watching in Antarctica? Some parts of the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic, such as The Falkland Islands, are considered “a birder’s paradise.

If you want to experience bird watching in Antarctica, there are several things you should know before setting off on your voyage. From the types of birds, you can expect to see the best locations to witness these feathered creatures in their natural habitats, a helpful guide can help you transform a possible great adventure into an unforgettable experience.

A birder's paradise: thousands of black-browed albatross nest at Steeple Jason in the subAntarctic Falkland Islands.

A birder's paradise: thousands of black-browed albatross nest at Steeple Jason in the subAntarctic
Falkland Islands. Photo: Manda Lundstrom

Unique birds in Antarctica

First of all, what are some of the types of birds you can expect to see across Antarctica? Some birds are only seen on the southern continent while others will migrate to the region over great distances depending on the time of year. Here’s a list of some of the most common types of birds you’ll see on your adventures across the continent.

Penguins

If there’s one type of bird you’ll definitely see in Antarctica, it’s the penguin. Believe it or not, there are nearly 20 different species of penguins that inhabit much of the southern hemisphere. Not all of them are native to Antarctica, but there are a few distinct types of penguins you can expect to see when voyaging across the southern continent.

King penguins populate the coasts of Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic islands, including South Georgia, the Falkland Islands, Elephant Island. They are the second-largest family of all penguins, known for their upright posture, a long bill, and distinct colors. Experienced ornithologist and seasoned Quark Expeditions explorer Noah Strycker have documented King penguins throughout his journeys in Antarctica, and he’s documented highlights from his adventures. You can read his story and get some ideas for how you want to observe King penguins on your journey.
A king penguin parades along St. Andrew's Bay, South Georgia.

A king penguin parades along St. Andrew's Bay, South Georgia Photo: Acacia Johnson

Gentoo penguins are also very common to see across the Southern Ocean. One of their most defining features is the color of their bill, which ranges from a very deep orange to red depending on the penguin. Photographer, artist and writer Acacia Johnson is another Quark Expeditions travel guide who has witnessed Gentoo penguins on her journeys throughout Antarctica. She encountered large rookeries of Gentoo penguins during a visit to Saunders Island, which you can read all about ahead of your adventure.

  Gentoo penguins at feeding time.

                               Gentoo penguins at feeding time. Photo:  Quark Expeditions

Albatross

Albatross is another of Antarctica’s most distinguished birds. Possessing the largest wingspan of any bird, they can soar through the air for hours without getting tired. They have incredible flight techniques that involve soaring and swooping through the air as they pull off dynamic feats that impress any who witness such feats. Keep your eyes peeled upward when visiting Antarctica as you won’t want to miss the albatross passing overhead.

Guests witness the courtship ritual of the black-browed albatross on the Falkland Islands.

Guests witness the courtship ritual of the black-browed albatross on the Falkland Islands. Photo: Acacia Johnson

Best time of the year to go bird watching in Antarctica

Like many animals, birds tend to hibernate during the winter months and reappear in spring. In Antarctica, the spring typically begins in late October or early November, which is when birds tend to emerge from hibernation and roam the southern continent once again. This is the optimal time to go bird-watching in Antarctica.

For that reason, we recommend that you book a spot aboard the South Georgia and Antarctic Peninsula: Penguin Safari voyage. This 16-day adventure allows you plenty of opportunities to see and photograph Antarctica’s amazing array of birds and other wildlife. You’ll sail across the Drake Passage from the bottom of Argentina east towards South Georgia Island, and then turn back southwest towards Elephant Island and the South Shetland Islands. Penguins, in particular, are known to roam the islands so make sure you have your camera ready to photograph these animals in all their glory.

Equipment needed for bird watching in Antarctica

Since Antarctica has a polar climate, it’s one of the coldest places you can visit. You need to bring the right equipment to stay warm and appreciate your adventure. This packing list guide will help you bring the right items you’ll need for any excursion into the Southern Ocean.

In terms of equipment needed for bird watching in Antarctica, you can read the advice from some of our most accomplished guides on how to shoot your best video on a polar adventure. Depending on the type of documentation you wish to undertake on your journey, you can get tips and recommendations from the experts who have done this sort of shoot many times over.

Tips for bird watching in Antarctica

Many of the best Antarctica bird watching tips are identical to recommendations on how to go bird watching in any environment. You want to have a list of the types of birds you plan to see; you want to bring the right gear to protect yourself out in the elements, and you want to bring everything you should include on your packing checklist to ensure you have all that you need.

Best way to go bird watching in Antarctica

For one of the best adventures, bird watching related or otherwise that you can experience across Antarctica, you’ll want to join the Falklands, South Georgia, and Antarctica: Explorers and King's itinerary. This 20-day adventure takes you to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island, the South Shetland Islands, and the Antarctic mainland itself.

While at sea, your travel guides will identify any seabirds that fly overhead or happen to be hanging out on icebergs floating in the ocean water. You’ll also have an opportunity to join a Zodiac cruise on certain legs of the journey, allowing you to get a much more up close and personal view of the animals. For non-bird-watching-related excursions, you can also go hiking across some of the islands and the mainland, and even risk-taking the polar plunge if you’re brave enough to immerse yourself in those icy waters.

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