Albatross: For generations, the sight of this familiar seabird with its vast wingspan flying high above the waters has captured the human imagination and inspired stories and legends all around the world. It’s a true survivor, having a variety of adaptations to cope with the stresses of lengthy periods at sea. However, due to competition for food with people, their numbers are fast dwindling.
Albatross Scientific Classification
Scientific Name: Diomedeidae
Albatross Conservation Status: Near Threatened
Albatross Locations: Africa, North-America, Ocean, Oceania, South-America
Prey: Squid, krill, and fish
Name Of Young: Chicks
Group Behavior: Colonial Nesting
Fun Fact: The largest wingspan of any bird in the world!
Estimated Population Size: Varies by species
Biggest Threat: Depletion of prey from overfishing
Most Distinctive Feature: The large size
Other Name(s): Mollymawk or gooney bird
Gestation Period: A few months
Wingspan: Up to 3.3m (11ft)
Age Of Fledgling: 3 to 10 months
Litter Size: 1
Habitat: Open seas and oceans
Predators: Humans, sharks, cats, and rats
Common Name: Albatross
Location: The Southern Hemisphere and North Pacific
Albatross Physical Characteristics
Grey: Yellow, Red, Black, White
Skin Type: Feathers
Top Speed: 50 mph
Lifespan: Up to 50 years
Weight: Up to 22lbs (10kg)
Length: Up to 4.4ft (1.2m)
Age of Sexual Maturity: 5 to 10 years
5 Incredible Albatross Facts!
- According to legend, the albatross bird carries the soul of a lost sailor who died at sea. Depending on who believes it, this could be a good or bad portent, but this solemn belief did not prevent people from killing or eating them. This was a crucial story point in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1798 poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. After the protagonist of the story kills an albatross, his ship is beset by calamities, and his other sailors order him to carry the dead bird around his neck as a form of punishment. The term “albatross around the neck” comes from this.
- The name albatross is derived from the Arabic word al-qadis or al-gaas, which literally means “diver.” It was then converted into the word Alcatraz by the Portuguese (as in the modern American prison). Albatross was later integrated into English as a result of this.
- The albatross bird is almost always in motion, except during the breeding season. Every year, the average bird can travel thousands of miles.
- The albatross is also known as the goony bird because of the amusing way it descends on the ground, rolling forward.
Around the world, bird watching is a popular pastime. The northern royal albatross colonies in New Zealand draw around 40,000 visitors each year.
Albatross Scientific Name
The albatross belongs to the Diomedeidae family of birds. This comes from Diomedes, an ancient Greek warrior who is claimed to have fought in the Trojan War. Albatrosses sang at his death, according to mythology. Because the albatross’ taxonomy is debatable, there are anywhere from 13 to 24 species, depending on who counts. For example, taxonomists are still debating whether the royal albatross is a single species or two distinct species, one in the north and one in the south. The albatross, like petrels, shearwaters, and other seabirds, belongs to the Procellariiformes family. This family’s most recent common ancestor lived more than 30 million years ago.
The albatross is a large, powerful bird that can be white, black or grey in hue (some species have a single color: the southern royal albatross is almost completely white). The long orange or yellow beak has several horned plates and is hooked at the end. It also includes tubes on the side that allow it to track airspeed while in flight.
The sheer immensity of the wingspan is the most astounding physical feature. The great albatross (and the wandering albatross species in particular) are the world’s largest extant bird species, with wings that span 11 feet from tip to tip. It can also weigh up to 22 pounds, making it about the size of a swan. Even the smallest species have a 6.5-foot wingspan, which is larger than most birds.
Because the albatross rarely flaps its wings, they are stiff and arched. Instead, the bird glides for lengthy periods of time on the ocean winds with minimal bodily movement. Because they have a lot of weight to carry around, this is an essential adaption. It also implies that they can’t fly well when there’s no wind. The albatross, on the other hand, expends nearly minimal energy while flying.
The albatross is well-adapted to spending long amounts of time at sea. They have the capacity to soar through the air (with exerting minimal effort) and float along the water. The albatross must come down to feed and drink from the ocean on occasion, despite being more susceptible to the water. It has a unique organ that excretes the salt it consumes while drinking. The albatross, despite being well-adapted to life at sea, occasionally rests on uninhabited islands. During the breeding season, they also return to land and cluster in enormous colonies that vary in density depending on the species. They seem to be pulled back to the colony where they were born naturally.
The albatross is a native of Antarctica, South America, South Africa, and Australia in the Southern Hemisphere. It used to have a vast range across much of the Northern Hemisphere, but currently, only a few species live in the Northern Pacific region between Alaska, California, Hawaii, and Japan. The albatross has little trouble navigating the vast waters because it can eat seafood and drink salt water. The only thing it truly needs to survive is a strong wind. It has a hard time traveling to locations when the wind is weak.
Squid, krill, schools of fish, and, much less typically, zooplankton make up the albatross’ diet (microscopic marine animals). This seabird isn’t afraid to scavenge either. It will follow ships and eat their waste, as well as dead carrion that floats on the water’s surface. The specifics of its food vary depending on the species. Unlike other common sea birds such as penguins, most species (such as the wandering albatross) can only dive a few feet beneath the surface, making it difficult for them to collect the food they need to survive. Some species may dive into the water quickly to snare their meal if they spot it from the air.
Predators and Threats
The albatross has few predators because it spends so much time floating over the ocean (where there are no other large carnivores), yet youngsters are occasionally preyed upon by tiger sharks, and introduced species such as cats and rats will occasionally feast on albatross eggs.
Humanity is the only other significant predator. It’s possible that some Arctic tribes hunted it as a vital source of sustenance in the bleak north. Its feathers were also used in the making of opulent headgear. The most serious threat to its survival, though, could be diminishing food supplies due to overfishing. In the open ocean, the albatross is constantly competing with humans for rare resources. Another danger is marine pollution, which builds up in the environment and gradually moves up the food chain. Poisoning over time can cause aberrant development, reproduction, and death.
Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan
The albatross will migrate to distant islands and coastal areas to reproduce after spending months at sea. The albatross is selective about the mate it chooses. Many species cannot afford to choose the incorrect spouse because they mate for life. They convey their sexual availability by performing an elaborate song and dance performance (in human terminology). Preening, staring, bill contact, calling, and pointing are all present. This process must be perfected and honed over years of trial and error in young birds. It eventually narrows down its list of potential mates to just one. This entire procedure is necessary for their existence.
They only produce one egg every mating season after copulating, and they normally wait a year before breeding again. A few months later, the baby chick emerges from its eggs, undeveloped and completely reliant on its parents for practically everything. The parents alternate between protecting the baby and going on food gathering missions in the early stages of its existence. They feed the chick krill, fish, squid, and an oily fluid formed in the stomach from the digestion of other prey.
The albatross is in a horrible state as a result of decades of human carelessness. Almost every species featured on the IUCN Red List is endangered in some way. With only 1.6 million mature individuals left in the wild, the Laysan albatross is a near-threatened species with a natural range spanning the entire Pacific. The critically endangered waved albatross and the Tristan albatross, on the other hand, have only a few thousand members apiece. With 10,000 to 100,000 mature individuals left, most species exist midway between those two extremes. With only 20,000 left, the massive wandering albatross, for example, is endangered.
To rebuild albatross numbers, conservationists feel that better management of existing fisheries stocks will be required. Restoration of habitat and the prohibition of certain chemical pollutions will also aid in this direction. It is not enough for the US or any other country to act alone. Because albatrosses have such huge territories to cover (and because changes in one section of the ocean might affect other parts), success will necessitate a global effort.