Wandering Albatross Fact File
The wandering albatross is the largest flying bird. Their wingspan is up to 3.5m (11ft) across. These wings are incredibly slender giving them very good aerial grace while flying.
A wandering albatross is colored white across most of its body with black on the wingtips. Their may also be a black tip to the tail and wavy lines across the breast in some individuals. Some also have a pinkish spot behind the ears. Females and males differ only in the females having brown speckles on the crown.
Their feet are colored a pale flesh color and have webbing between the toes which acts as brakes when they come in to land.
Protruding from the head is a yellowish-pink bill which has a small hook at the end. On either side of this are tubular nostrils which provide an excellent sense of smell.
The body of a wandering albatross measures 1.1m (3.5ft) long and weighs 8-11.5kg (18-25lbs).
Wandering albatross are carnivores. Their diet is composed of sea creatures such as fish, krill and squid. Most of their prey is taken at the surface or during shallow dives. Carrion may be taken including of larger species such as penguins or seals.
Increasingly these birds will follow fishing boats and take any items which are thrown aside.
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These birds have a wide range running circumpolar around the Subantarctic Ocean. They can be found on land in the following countries – Angola, Antarctica, Argentina, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, Australia, Bouvet Island, Brazil, Chile, Falkland Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, French Southern Territories, Heard Island and McDonald Islands, Italy, Japan, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, New Zealand, Norfolk Island, Panama, Portugal, Réunion, Saint Helena, South Africa, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Tonga, United States and Uruguay.
While breeding they will nest in open or patchy vegetation on an exposed hillside. During the rest of the year they fly above the southern ocean.
Breeding takes place in summer starting in December. Pairs are monogamous and form for life though females may find another mate if hers is not present when she returns to the nesting site and it is not uncommon for mating to occur outside of mated pairs.
Males return to their nesting site first and will make a nest or reuse one from previous years. The females will join them over the course of the next few weeks and locate their mate.
Pairs breed once every two years. If they fail to breed or their chick does not survive they may try again in the same season or the next year.
They undertake a courtship display which includes spreading the wings, clapping the bill and uttering a moaning call.
Their nest is made out of mud and vegetation and is placed on an exposed ridge.
Both parents will work together to incubate a single egg. The egg is incubated for 78 days. Once the chick hatches the parents will brood it for four to six weeks.
Following this the parents will leave the chick at the nest while they go off to feed. The chick continues to rely on its parents for food for 9-10 months. The parents may leave them alone for weeks at a time though while they go to feed. The chick is fed with regurgitated food.
They will first breed around 11-15 years old though they start returning to the colony at 6 years old.
Wandering albatross may spend up to 50 days out over the water flying and foraging for food. During the breeding season they will reduce the length of these trips.
While on these foraging trips they will travel in small groups. During the breeding season large numbers will come together at the breeding sites.
A range of vocalizations are made including croaks, bill-clapping and trumpeting.
Predators and Threats
Eggs are preyed upon by skuas and shearwaters. Their nests may also be targeted by introduced species such as cats, goats, pigs, rats and mice. Humans have previously hunted them in small amounts.
One of the largest developing threats for this species is long-line fishing. They can become entangled in these lines while hunting for food.
Their scientific name comes from a Latin word for ‘living in exile.’
They are occasionally called the ‘snowy albatross’ as they are so white. Others refer to them as the white-winged albatross.
By Lieutenant Elizabeth Crapo, NOAA Corps: NOAA Photo Library – anim0672Uploaded by Snowmanradio, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15550183
Middle Two and Bottom
By JJ Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20760374
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