Where giant petrels are hatched in the snow

Giant petrel
   As the howling wind ceaselessly batters a bare cliff top on the barren island of South Georgia in the southern Atlantic, a giant petrel crouches on its one white egg. The bird is one of a breeding colony of about 100 paire, and one bird of each pair is sitting tight on their egg while the other searches for food. January is midsummer in this part of the world, but it is snowing, so the sitting birds are blanketed with white flakes. But they will not stir, or the eggs warmed by their belly feathers might be chüled.
   Bleak as it may be, the cliff-top nursery suits the giant petrel well. The bird has a wingspan of up to 6ft (1.8m), and to take off it simply unfolds its huge wings and floats away. Once airborne, the petrel has an extraordinary, stiff-winged flight, seldom flapping its wings. It cruises on updraughts from huge ocean waves, body tilted sideways and wingtips skimming the water.
   Giant petrels are scavengers. They quickly sight any seal pups or seabirds that have been caught by killer whales, for example, and cruise in to feast on the scraps. But they are also predators - partial to such meáis as penguin chicks, gulls, and shearwaters. Like all petrels, they spit foul-smelling stomach oil if threatened. Their scavenging and spitting habits may be the reason why they are known as 'stinkers'.
With a full crop, each petrel returns to feed its waiting mate or hungry chick - hatched after just over eight weeks of incubation. These large seabirds spend most of their Uves on the wing and may return to land to breed only once in two or three years. The chicks take about four months to develop and fly off.

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