Latin name: Diomedea exulans

wanderingalbatross

Longevity: They might live for more than 60 years.

Population: In 1998, the total annual breeding population was estimated at 8,500 pairs, equivalent to about 28,000 mature individuals. Current estimates are about 8,114 annual breeding pairs and approximately 27,600 mature individuals.

Cites classified: Vulnerable (IUCN, 2008)

Where found: They breed on South Georgia, Prince Edward, Marion, Crozet, Kerguelen, Heard, McDonald and Macquarie. The Wandering Albatross disperses over vast areas of the Southern Ocean, away from all land except for their own nesting areas.

Wingspan: 254-363 cm (it has the largest wingspan of any bird)

Length: 107-135 cm

Weight: 6.35 to 11.3 kg

Mating/Breeding: The Wandering Albatross breeds every other year. At breeding time they occupy loose colonies on isolated island groups in the Southern Ocean, in areas of short vegetation with near-bare area for take-off, on coastal plains and valley floors, and sometimes with giant petrels They lay one egg between 10 December and 5 January, in their nests, which are truncated cones of grass, twigs, roots and soil with central depression. The nest is 1 metre wide at the base and half a metre wide at the apex. Incubation takes 75-83 days and both parents are involved. They are a monogamous species, usually for life. Adolescents return to the colony within 6 years; however they won’t start breeding until about 11 years. About 30% of fledglings survive.

Eggs: They lay one egg that is whitish, with some diffuse red spots, and that is about 10 cm long.

Hibernation: Same winter range as summer range.

Hunting Habits: They are prone to following ships for refuse. They will make shallow dives (up to 1 meter deep) also.

Feed on: They feed on squid, cephalopods, small fish, and crustaceans and on animal refuse that floats on the sea.

Threats: The observed decline of this species is believed to be driven largely by incidental catch in fisheries, which has reduced adult survival and juvenile recruitment. The vast foraging range means that birds encounter many different long-line fleets.

Colour/Looks: Huge albatross with variable plumage, whitening with age. Juvenile chocolate-brown with white face mask, white underwing with black tip and trailing margin. Underparts become pure white. On upperparts, back whitens first, followed by crown and rump, white wedge forms in centre upperwing, extending to coverts. Black tips remain on outer tail feathers. Pink bill and flesh legs. Recent genetic studies argue that the Wandering albatross is actually five distinct species, each with unique characteristics in its plumage.

Interesting Trivia: The early explorers of the great Southern Sea cheered themselves with the companionship of the albatross in their dreary solitudes; and the evil fate of him who shot with his cross-bow the “bird of good omen” is familiar to readers of Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Studies on South Georgia have found that female Wandering albatrosses tend to fly north to forage, whereas the males head south. The northward-flying females are more likely to encounter long-line fishing boats, and so are more likely than males to get caught and drown.
The chicks of drowned adults do not survive because a single parent cannot provide enough food for a growing chick.

Geographic Distribution

wandering_albatross

More info:

BirdLife International (2008) Species factsheet: Diomedea exulans
Hadoram Shirihai, A complete guide to Antarctic wildlife (2002)
David McGonigal & Lynn Woodworth, Antarctica and the Arctic. The complete encyclopedia (2001)