Cape Bird is situated 43 km north of Scott Base at the north west extremity of Mt Bird (1800m), an inactive volcanic cone. It is an unusually hospitable coastal site and home to an Adélie penguin colony with some 40,000 breeding pairs. A small area above Caughley Beach at Cape Bird is an Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA 116) due to its rich stands of moss, microflora and fauna.
During the 1966/67 season a biological hut (the Harrison Laboratory) opened to provide facilities for scientists working at Cape Bird. The hut was named after the late John Harrison, who was part of the first ascent by New Zealanders of Mt Erebus in January 1959. This hut, which housed six people, was built at Scott Base during the winter and air lifted by helicopter to Cape Bird. The Cape Bird hut was rebuilt in 1991 and is situated approximately 100m North of ASPA 116.
On 27 November 1972, a party of four launched a research boat at Cape Bird for a short test trip. The engine failed and the boat became trapped in mobile pack ice and was abandoned. The party transferred some emergency equipment onto the pack ice but couldn’t get ashore. They drifted along the coast of Ross Island on a small floe, occasionally being covered by waves and moving between ice floes. The group was eventually rescued six days later 40 km south west of Cape Bird and 10 km west of Cape Royds after 40 hours of aerial searching. Following this incident small boat operations were suspended until comprehensive safety procedures were established.
Adélie penguin research is the main activity at Cape Bird each summer season. There are three colonies– Northern, Middle and Southern with most New Zealand research being conducted at the Northern Colony. Most seasons there are three to four Adélie penguin science research projects at Cape Bird.
Other science in the area includes research into the delicate stands of moss and lichen that grow in the nearby ASPA, air and water sampling, studies of the skua population and geological investigations.
Antarctica New Zealand limits the number of people at Cape Bird each season in order to reduce the environmental impact.