How To Identify An Albatross
The albatross is the largest member of the petrel order and among the largest of flying birds. Learn all about the albatross.
The albatross is the largest member of the petrel order and among the largest of flying birds. These birds have been known to sailors since the days of Magellan. At one time they were regarded as the reincarnations of seamen washed overboard and it was thought to be extremely unlucky to kill them as was expressed by Coleridge in his Ancient Mariner. There are nine species of albatross confined to the Southern Hemisphere that breed mainly on the sub-Antarctic and oceanic islands. Four other species are found in the North Pacific.
These birds have goose sized bodies with extremely long and slender wings. The wandering albatross is the largest of the 13 species. This bird has a wingspan that will sometimes exceed 12 feet. In most cases the plumage is black and white. Occasionally, in a few species brown replaces the black areas. They are heavy birds with small wing muscles, but can remain airborne for long periods covering great distances as they fly. It is believed this is made possible by the difference in the speed of the wind at the water's surface due to friction slowing down the air at the surface. The albatross will glide swiftly down wind and toward the waters surface, gathering speed. Once it is just above the water it will swing sharply around into the wind and soar upwards. When its air speed has dropped it has gained sufficient height to begin its downward glide.
The albatross feed on marine organisms that live at the surface of the ocean. Some of their favorites include squid, fish and crustaceans. They will occasionally take small sea birds and they seem to love refuse from ships. The minute a bucketful is tipped overboard, they flop down into the water. It has been reported that sailors falling overboard have been viciously attack by the albatross from time to time. At breeding time the albatross will gather in tens of thousands at the top of cliffs where the birds can easily take off. These birds are extremely faithful to their nest sites, allowing no amount of calamities to drive them from their chosen area.
The albatross is a very long-lived bird. Studies have shown that some can live for up to 26 years. They begin breeding at 7 years old but even the younger birds can be seen returning to the breeding grounds practicing their courting. The albatross have a spectacular courtship display. Both birds of the pair will dance grotesquely and awkwardly with wings outstretched while making nasal groans and snapping their bills. When breeding season begins, several males can be seen dancing around a single female until she decides which one she wants to pair with. The female will lay a single egg in a cup shaped nest that is made of mud. The egg is incubated by both parents from 65 to 81 days. When the chick hatches it is brooded for a few days and guarded by both parents for several weeks. After this time the chick will be left alone while both parents search for food. The adults return every ten days to feed the chick a huge meal. When the young albatross leave the breeding grounds they will glide around the world before returning several years later.
These birds have no natural enemies, since they live in such remote areas. An introduce predator could wreck havoc on the closely packed nest since the albatross reaction to any disturbance is to sit tight and make a clacking noise with their bill while spitting oil from digested crustaceans and fish.