An albatross is a large, magnificent seabird capable of soaring incredible distances without rest.
They spend most of their time gliding over the open ocean.
Albatrosses, of the biological family Diomedeidae, are large seabirds related to the procellariids, storm petrels, and diving petrels in the order Procellariiformes (the tubenoses).
Albatrosses, of the biological family Diomedeidae, has 22 species.
Other members of the Procellariiformes family of seabirds also include petrels, shearwaters, and other seabirds.
The albatross can be found in the Southern Hemisphere around Antarctica, South America, South Africa, Australia, and even in the North Pacific. The group name for the albatross is a flock.
An albatross’ size and where they live depend entirely on its species.
Albatrosses are among the largest flying birds. The wingspan of a wandering albatross measures up to 3.7 meters across, which makes it the largest extant bird on Earth in terms of wingspan. Other albatross species, including the southern royal albatross, have a wingspan that can reach up to 3.3 meters.
An albatross can grow up to 88-120 cm long and can weigh up to 7-10 kg, almost the same size as a swan in terms of size.
Albatrosses are powerful birds with a white, black, or grey colouring that can be seen in a variety of variations with a long orange or yellow hooked beak. Some species have a single colour, like the southern royal albatross which is almost completely white. Albatrosses may spend months or more at sea without setting foot on land, most of which is spent flying.
Living at sea makes up over 80% of the life of an albatross, just flying and soaring. Albatrosses only visit land to breed, lay eggs and to take care of their chicks. They usually choose to make nests on remote islands.
Studies shows that an albatross can soar 800 km in a day and can maintain speeds of nearly 80 to 130 kilometres per hour for 8 hours without even flapping its wings.
No other flying bird can match the distance traveled by an albatross without beating its wings. Albatrosses lock their elbow joints, which helps the bird to keep its wings extended for long periods with no energy cost from the muscles. They have mastered a skill known as dynamic soaring, which allows them to fly along a continually curving path in a certain way that extracts energy from the gradient of ocean wind velocity.
Certain studies have shown that some albatrosses have flown all the way around the world in as few as 46 days. Although there’s no clear evidence, many believe that albatrosses must be able to sleep while flying.
They have excellent eyesight and an extremely well-developed sense of smell that helps them detect potential food sources from above. Albatrosses are only capable of diving a few meters below the surface of the water, unlike other prominent sea birds, such as penguins.
Albatrosses are long-living birds that can survive for many years. They can live well into their fifties, sixties, and even seventies. The oldest known banded bird in the wild, called Wisdom, was 68 years old. Albatrosses are carnivorous, feeding on marine animals such as crabs, small fish, krill, squid, and crustaceans.
They will also eat dead animals that they find floating on the surface of the ocean. They will sometimes follow ships and scavenge on handouts or garbage that is left behind. The specific nature of its food varies from species to species, according to its nutritional requirements. Albatrosses are known for being monogamous. They form a long-term bond with one partner that is rarely broken unless one bird dies.
Albatross couples would normally return to the same breeding grounds every time they reunite to mate, similar to sea turtles.
Nests are built out of earth, grass, feathers, and bushes. An albatross pair spend limited time together at the breeding ground, meeting up only briefly until their egg is laid.
Pairs take turns incubating the egg and searching for food. Albatrosses lay just one single egg at a time, once per year. It is unusual for an albatross to lay an egg two years in a row, although it can happen in certain cases. It is most likely that an albatross will skip a year in between eggs. Albatross babies are called chicks.
The albatross egg has the longest incubation period of any bird – it can take up to 80 days before the chick hatches. Once a chick is born, both birds must search for food to keep the growing chick fed. The male and female take turns to feed and guard their chick until it is large enough to care for itself.
After the chick is old enough to survive on its own, the pair separate for the rest of the year and only reunite when it’s time to breed again.
A young chick has a slow growth and is completely reliant on its parents. It takes a few weeks before the chick is of legal age to protect itself against predators. Adult albatrosses go out to catch and eat fish, but do not fully digest the food. When they return to the nest, they pump over 1.8 kg of the oily, un-digested food into the chick, causing it to swell. This will keep the chick filled up while the adults are away fishing. A young albatross will take another 3-10 months until it is fully-fledged (meaning that it will be able to fly) and ready to go on its own hunt to find a mate.
Of the 22 albatross species recognized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a total of 15 are threatened with extinction and 8 of those species are listed as either endangered or critically endangered.
Many albatrosses are dying at sea as a result of human activity like fishing lines and fishing nets as well as ocean plastic. Due to the presence of invasive predators like cats and rats, many are also dying as eggs and chicks at their breeding grounds.
The 19th of June is World Albatross Day. It was established in 2020 to raise awareness of a conservation crisis out of sight.
There are many myths about albatrosses for sailors. It’s been said that the killing and eating or even the shooting of an albatross will bring bad luck, even though an albatross was often on the menu for some explorers out at sea.