Litchfield Island

Country/territory: Antarctica

IBA criteria met: A4ii (2015)
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Area: 36 ha

Site description (2015 baseline)

Litchfield Island lies ~1 km to the south of Norsel Point, Anvers Island, at the western limit of Arthur Harbour. The IBA qualifies on the basis of the South Polar Skua (Catharacta maccormicki) colony present and is defined by the boundary of ASPA No. 113 Litchfield Island, which was designated to protect an unusually rich and diverse terrestrial habitat, with a wide range of wildlife (ASPA No. 113 Management Plan, 2014).

The geology of Litchfield Island comprises tonalites, granites and other volcanics (ASPA No. 113 Management Plan, 2014). Relief is varied with numerous low summits, the highest of which is 48 m, and there are several small ponds on the island. In the 1960s, one finest examples of maritime Antarctic vegetation existed on Litchfield Island, including extensive moss carpets (ASPA No. 113 Management Plan, 2014). By 2001, Antarctic Fur Seals (Arctocephalus gazella) had severely impacted the vegetation on Litchfield Island's lower slopes. However, on higher slopes, vegetation remains intact.

The nearest scientific station is Palmer (US), ~1.5 km to the east. See IBA Cormorant Island for more information on Palmer Station and local climate.

Key biodiversity

At least six bird species breed on Litchfield Island, making it one of the most ornithologically diverse sites in Arthur Harbour. Census records for the South Polar Skua indicate up to 50 breeding pairs breed on Litchfield Island, although the number fluctuates widely from year to year (ASPA No. 113 Management Plan, 2014). Breeding pairs of Brown Skua (Catharacta antarctica) and hybrid skua have also been observed in the past. However, an outbreak of fowl cholera in 1979 is thought to have killed many of the Brown Skua and only two pairs were recorded in 1980/81 (ASPA No. 113 Management Plan, 2014). There were 57 breeding pairs of Southern Giant Petrel (Macronectes giganteus) on Litchfield Island in the 2008/09 season (W. Fraser pers. comm. 2014) and a few Antarctic Tern (Sterna vittata) nests are recorded each year. Kelp Gulls (Larus dominicanus) breed in low numbers in this IBA, whilst Wilson's Storm-petrels (Oceanites oceanicus) are also a confirmed breeder at the site.

Around 1000 pairs of Adélie Penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) were nesting on Litchfield Island in the early 1970s (Parmelee & Parmelee, 1987), although by 2006/07 all nests had been vacated (W. Fraser pers. comm. 2014). Population decline of Adélie breeding sites in the Palmer area has been linked to regional changes in sea ice extent and snow accumulation rates (Emslie et al. 1998; McClintock et al. 2008).

Other non-breeding bird species frequenting the site include the Imperial Shag (Phalacrocorax [atriceps] bransfieldensis), Chinstrap Penguin (Pygoscelis antarctica) and Gentoo Penguin (P. papua). Occasional observations are made of Snow Petrel (Pagodroma nivea), Cape Petrel (Daption capense), Antarctic Petrel (Thalassoica antarctica) and Southern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialoides).

Non-bird biodiversity: Antarctic Fur Seals (Arctocephalus gazella) commonly haul out on Litchfield Island from February onwards each year, although numbers have reportedly decreased in the Arthur Harbour area in recent years (Siniff et al. 2008). Southern Elephant Seals (Mirounga leonina) haul out along the shoreline of Litchfield Island for much of the year and Weddell Seals (Leptonychotes weddellii) are also occasionally observed. Crabeater Seals (Lobodon carcinophagus) and Leopard Seals (Hydrurga leptonyx) are regularly observed on ice floes nearby (ASPA No. 113 Management Plan, 2014). See IBA Cormorant Island for information on other species observed nearby.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Litchfield Island. Downloaded from on 04/12/2023.