The arrival of Antarctic fur seals at a breeding beach on Bird Island, South Georgia, was studied over five consecutive breeding seasons, 1983 to 1987. Experienced bulls arrived first and established breeding territories on the beaches in anticipation of the arrival of the cows. Male arrival, which is less synchronous within years than female arrival, was significantly later in 1987 than in any other year. Female arrival, estimated by pup birth date where necessary, was highly synchronous; it usually started when 80% or more of potential territory sites were occupied by males. Cows arrived significantly later in 1984 and 1987 than in 1983, 1985 or 1986. The late arrival of both males and females in 1987 is attributed to unusually severe climatic conditions during the preceding winter. The late arrival and reduced fecundity of females in 1984 is attributed to markedly reduced food availability during the austral winter and summer of 1983. Males were not affected in 1984 because they could move away from the area of reduced food availability earlier than females and because they have a more varied diet. Factors influencing the winter distribution, the timing and pattern of arrival and the breeding of male and female Antarctic fur seals are discussed.