Birds that Eat Penguins

Birds are among the most aesthetically pleasing animals in the world. They are two-legged mammals with wings and feathers. They are warm-blooded and lay eggs.

Scientists state that there are roughly between 9000 to 10,000 bird species worldwide. Sea birds like gulls, terns, penguins, and cormorants live together in the coastal areas. But do these birds eat penguins?

Penguins live in colonies that are greater in size than certain cities. They can survive in the toughest of environments. It comes as no surprise that penguins are considered Antarctica’s mascot.

A pair of king penguins stepping out at Right Whale Bay on South Georgia Island.

Penguins and birds both belong to the same part of the food chain. Especially given that penguins are the most seen Antarctic bird, various species of bird’s prey on them.

Today, we will dive deep and understand – “which species of birds eat penguins” are you ready? Let’s go!

Which Species Of Birds Are Penguins Predators?

There are many predators of penguins. Nevertheless, A healthy adult penguin on land has no natural predators. However, penguin eggs and chicks are preyed upon by other birds such as skuas, giant petrels, and sheathbills.

Penguins typically reside in areas where land predators are absent, leading them away from danger. However, if we talk about the water and air, penguins are hunted by almost everyone, from skuas to leopard seals to killer whales.

To get a deeper understanding of the birds that eat penguins. We will talk about the different birds that eat penguins and their eating habits.

1) South Polar Skuas

Skuas are predatory seabirds with seven species forming the genus Stercorarius MacCormick and the only species in the family stercorariidae.

Skuas have a thick neck, a short, broad tail, a hooked black beak, and black legs.

Females of the South Polar Skua are more significant than males. Males and females have the same appearance. On the other hand, female skuas are the greyest of the skua family.

Who Are The Skuas?

South polar skuas reach sexual maturity around six years of age. The pair return in the same nesting from one year to the next. Nests are smaller than scratches or scrapes in the ground, clear of ice or snow.

The female lays two eggs on average in either November or December. The eggs are brooded for a month by both adults.

The eggs usually hatch a few days later, with the first hatching being more extensive than the second. The chicks can move after one or day after hatching but will not be able to fly for at least another month.

South polar skuas live about to 10 years in the wild.

How Much Do The Skuas Eat?

Great skuas measure 50-58 cm (20-23 inches) long and have a 125-140 cm (49-55 inches) wingspread.

A study found that 112 male skuas weighed an average of 1.27 kg (2.8 lb.) and that 125 female skuas weighed an average of 1.41(3.1lb).

Do Penguins And Skuas Live In The Same Habitat?

The migratory range of south polar skuas is vast, with some wintering as far north as Greenland and Alaska. They are mainly oceanic when not breeding, which means they live entirely at sea. 

On the other hand, penguins are observed in the Southern Hemisphere, such as Antarctica, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, South America, and the Galapagos Islands, to mention a few.

South polar skuas mainly eat penguin chicks and steal penguin eggs. Skuas are sometimes known as avian pirates.

What are avian pirates? Aggressive birds such as Skuas developed from ordinary sea birds patrol the world’s waters. They prey on mammals, land birds, and other sea birds. They catch their prey through relentless coercion. For Skuas, this name is well-earned.

How Do The Skuas Hunt Penguins?

Skuas eating a penguin

The south polar skua (Catharacta MacCormick) is the size of a large gull. They are excellent flyers. Skuas can attain speeds of up to 50 km/h.

Skuas have occasionally been spotted hundreds of kilometers deep in the interior, even as far south as the pole. They breed in the far south and nest across Antarctica.

Skuas are generally aggressive by nature. Skuas mainly eat fish, birds, carrion, offal, rodents, rabbits, and occasionally berries. But a penguin is an animal’s most nutritious diet.

Most animals love eating penguins due to their high nutritional content and distinct fat layers. Although penguins are not their main food items or prey, the skua’s distribution range overlaps with several penguins in Antarctica. Therefore, Surprising that Skuas occasionally feed on penguins.

Skuas steal much of their food from other seabirds like terns, puffins, and more. How do they steal? They steal food from these birds carrying fish or other prey back to their nests.

Skuas have short wings for quicker wingbeats and long primary feathers for forwarding thrust. These features are beneficial to accelerate, like a Porsche to attack a petrel or albatross.

The south polar skua chases and harasses other birds and terns to force them to drop their catches or prey. It may also follow ships at sea and eat thrown garbage overboard.

Young skuas also eat terns and puffins. They will also attack humans if they get too close to their nests.

Skuas and giant petrels are aggressive hunters and chase their prey until it dies.

Skuas are known as enemies of penguins as they eat penguins’ chicks and steal penguin eggs. Skuas mostly eat infertile eggs and the young chicks of easy penguin pairings.

These intelligent birds sometimes work in pairs, with one bird pulling at a penguin’s tail while the other stands to grab at an unprotected egg or chick.

Do Skuas Like To Eat Penguins?

Skuas generally eat eggs and chicks of seabirds, mainly penguins. These are the vital food source of most skua species during the nesting season. Skuas cannot challenge adult penguins as they are enormous and critical.

Sometimes they kill the live penguin chicks and often give up their catches to the more extensive and very aggressive giant petrels.

Skuas Conservation Program

Skuas live in both poles in the northern hemisphere (arctic ocean) and southern hemisphere (Antarctic Ocean).

Scientists are afraid that the arctic skua population in the United Kingdom may go extinct. Due to a scarcity of food in their natural habitats.

The study’s lead author and senior conservation scientist at the RSPB Scotland stated that the main challenge for these birds is a lack of food, highlighting how vulnerable our seabirds and marine life are.

The south polar skua is not at risk of extinction. There are around 15,000 south polar skuas.

2) Giant Petrels

Giant Petrels

Giant petrels belong to the Procellariidae family, consisting of two species: Northern Giant Petrel Macronectes halli and Southern Giant Petrel M. giganteus, which are renowned for being difficult to identify.

Giant petrels divide into two colors: white and black. The hues depend on the bird’s life phases.

Adults in the dark phase have a darker grey-brown body with a white head, throat, and speckled brown breast that becomes paler with age.

A Rarer much lighter form is the White Giant petrels. White phase birds are entirely white except for a few disseminated dark feathers.

Who Are The Giants’ Petrels?

Giants’ petrels are infamous for their interesting behavior of running along the sea’s surface. They flap their wings until they have enough speed to take off. They have wingspans of up to 7 feet, and they are excellent gliders. They have wingspread above 200cm (6.5 feet).

The giant petrel is also known as giant fulmar (Macronectes giganteus), as its body is a minimum of about 90 cm (3 feet). A giant petrel’s weight can range from 2.3 kg to 5.6 kg (5.1 -12.3lb).

Giant petrels are both predators and scavengers. Another intriguing popular name is Stinker.

Generally, giant petrels do not have any natural predators, although they will come into potentially harmful conflict when hunting skua chicks and eggs. 

Dr. Gonzalej-Solis, on the other hand, notes that “it is not simple to evaluate the duration of the impacts in wild animals.” The giant petrels are birds that can live over 50 years.

Do Penguins And Giants’ Petrels Live In The Same Habitat?

Both southern and northern giant petrels are found solely in the southern hemisphere. They range from the Antarctic up through into subtropical regions of South America, Australia, and Africa.

On the other hand, Penguins are observed in the Southern Hemisphere, such as Antarctica, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, South America, and the Galapagos Islands, to mention a few.

Giant petrels are sea birds that nest on land and feed at sea—these species nest on islands around the Antarctic circle and in sub-Antarctic waters.

The Antarctic continent, Antarctic Peninsula, and subantarctic islands such as Heard Island, South Georgia Marion Island, and Les Crozet Island are the breeding grounds for the southern giant petrel.

Both giant petrels’ southern and northern giant petrels tend to return to the same nesting sites every breeding season.

Do Giant Petrels Like To Eat Penguins?

Both giant petrels feed on krill, squid, fish, other small seabirds, and carcasses of marine animals. There are some dietary differences between the genders.

Female giant petrels feed more on live prey such as krill, squid, and fish, whereas males feed more on carrion.

Southern giant petrels get their food by scavenging penguins, albatrosses, and other seabirds up to the size of an adult albatross.

Giant Petrel eating penguins

Adult penguins are a considerable percentage of the meal of giant petrels at sea. Scavenged adult penguins killed or wounded by speedier predators like seals are preyed on by these petrels.

How Do Giant Petrels Hunt?

Giant petrels are scavengers. They can eat dead and decaying elephant seals. They are also predators that kill live birds such as penguins by taking them off the water’s surface.

They also have been observed catching live seabirds on the wing and slapping them to death against the sea surface before eating them.

Sometimes they approach sleeping penguins, get it by the neck, and hold its neck into the sea until it drowns, and then eat it.

Southern giant petrels are less fascinated with fishing vessels than northern but take fish and squid by surface assumption.

Giant Petrels Conservation Program

The northern petrel population is estimated to number between 17,000 and 21,000 birds. On the other hand, the southern petrel population is 97,000 birds. There are no predators for them.


Sheathbills are members of the chionidae family of birds. A thick white plumage is their distinguisher as it covers their entire body.

Sheathbills resemble doves and are the predecessors of modern-day gulls and terns. They are the only birds in Antarctica that do not have webbed feet.

Snowy sheathbills and black-faced sheathbills are two different species of sheathbills. The hue of their faces and legs is the only difference between the two species.

Who Are The Sheathbills?

Sheathbills are around 380-410mm (15-16in) in length. The length of the wingspan is about 760-800 mm (30-31in). They look like pigeons in migration.

Sheathbills like to walk on the ground, somewhat like rails. They only fly when they are in a dangerous position.

Sheathbills breed during the breeding season of penguins. They lay 2 or 3 smudgy eggs in rock cavities.

Do Penguins And Sheathbills Live In The Same Habitat?

Antarctica, the Scotia arc, the South Orkney Islands, and South Georgia are home to Snowy and Black-faced sheathbills.

On the other hand, Penguins are observed in the Southern Hemisphere, such as Antarctica, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, South America, and the Galapagos Islands, to mention a few.

Do Sheathbills Like To Eat Penguins?

King penguins and sheathbills

As we know, sheathbills have no webbed feet, so they get their food from land only.

Sheathbills are omnivores, scavengers, and kleptoparasites (creatures that rob other animals of their food), similar to skuas, and consume almost everything they come upon, even human waste.

Sheathbills are aggressive predators of eggs and young penguins, carrion, feces of animals, petrels, and terns. When the breeding season is off, they eat algae and intertidal creatures.

Sheathbills are experts in stealing krill and fish from penguins. They sometimes also steal the penguin’s chicks and eggs if they get the opportunity.

Sheathbills are also known to eat tapeworms found in chinstrap penguin’s intestines.

They obtain much of their nutrition from penguins’ eggs and chicks. Sometimes they steal food from adult penguins to feed their young ones.

How Do The Sheathbills Hunt?

It is not too hard to find food for sheathbills as they live nearly in the group of penguins and other seabirds.

Sheathbills Conservation Program

There are an estimated 200,000 sheathbills on the globe. As a result, they are not in danger.

Final Thoughts 

Adult penguins are not easily hunted by sea birds simply because they are abundant. Sheathbills, giant petrels, and south polar skuas, for example, often hunt penguin chicks and eggs because they are easy prey.

All these birds are scavengers, predators, and a type of kleptoparasite. For Instance: These birds scavenge adult penguins when other predators like seals injure them or steal food from seabirds.

The facts to get cleared with answers are indeed interesting. I hope you got the response to the factual discussion that happened one day with your friends or family where you left the space filled with sheepish smiles.

Image Source

A pair of king penguins stepping out at Right Whale Bay on South Georgia Island. by David Stanley / CC BY
Skuas eating a penguin by Liam Quinn / CC BY
Giant Petrels by Brian Gratwicke / CC BY
Giant Petrel eating penguins by Nweider / CC BY
King penguins and sheathbills by Sharon Chester / CC BY



I got interested in penguins from a young age and as I grew I realized that penguins are such fascinating birds. I made it a mission to create a website where all information about penguins could be accessed in an easy to read format.

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