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Wandering albatross


Wandering albatross

Wandering albatross
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Procellariiformes
Family: Diomedeidae
Genus: Diomedea
Species: D. exulans
Binomial name
Diomedea exulans
Linnaeus, 1758[2]

Diomedea exulans exulans(Linnaeus, 1758)[2]
Diomedea exulans gibsoni

The wandering albatross, snowy albatross or white-winged albatross[3] (Diomedea exulans) is a large seabird from the family Diomedeidae, which has a circumpolar range in the Southern Ocean. It was the first species of albatross to be described, and was long considered the same species as the Tristan albatross and the Antipodean albatross. A few authors still consider them all subspecies of the same species.[4] The SACC has a proposal on the table to split this species,[5] and BirdLife International has already split it. Together with the Amsterdam albatross, it forms the wandering albatross species complex. The wandering albatross is the largest member of the genus Diomedea (the great albatrosses), one of the largest birds in the world, and one of the best known and studied species of bird in the world.


  • Taxonomy 1
  • Etymology 2
  • Habitat 3
  • Description 4
  • Ecology 5
    • Behaviour 5.1
    • Breeding 5.2
    • Feeding 5.3
    • Reproduction 5.4
  • Range 6
  • Relationship with humans 7
    • Conservation 7.1
  • See also 8
  • Footnotes 9
  • References 10
  • Further reading 11
  • External links 12


The wandering albatross was first described as Diomedea exulans by Carolus Linnaeus, in 1758, based on a specimen from the Cape of Good Hope.[3] There are two sub-species:

  • Diomedea exulans exulans
  • Diomedea exulans gibsoni (sometimes known as Gibson's albatross, and treated as a full species, Diomedea gibonsi, by some authorities[6])

The gibsoni subspecies nests in the Auckland Islands.[7]

In flight

Some experts considered there to be four subspecies of D. exulans, which they elevated to species status, and use the term wandering albatross to refer to a species complex that includes the proposed species D. antipodensis, D. dabbenena, D. exulans, and D. gibonsi.[8]


Diomedea refers to Diomedes whose companions turned to birds, and exulans or exsul are Latin for "exile" or "wanderer" referring to its extensive flights.[9]


Wandering albatrosses spend most of their life in flight, landing only to breed and feed. Distances traveled each year are hard to measure, but one banded bird was recorded traveling 6000 km in twelve days.


The wandering albatross has the largest wingspan of any living bird, typically ranging from 2.51 to 3.5 m (8 ft 3 in to 11 ft 6 in), with a mean span of 3.1 m (10 ft 2 in) in the

  • Species factsheet - BirdLife International
  • Fact file - ARKive
  • Video, photos and sounds - Internet Bird Collection
  • Holotype photos - Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Slide show - Expeditionsail

External links

  • "Diomedea exulans".  

Further reading

  • BirdLife International (2008). "Wandering Albatross - BirdLife Species Factsheet". Data Zone. Retrieved 17 Feb 2009. 
  • Brands, Sheila (Aug 14, 2008). "Systema Naturae 2000 / Classification - Diomedea subg. Diomedea -". Project: The Taxonomicon. Retrieved 12 Feb 2009. 
  • Clements, James (2007). The Clements Checklist of the Birds of the World (6 ed.). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.  
  • Dunn, Jon L.; Alderfer, Jonathon (2006). "Accidentals, Extinct Species". In Levitt, Barbara. National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America (fifth ed.). Washington D.C.: National Geographic Society. p. 467.  
  • Ehrlich, Paul R.; Dobkin, David, S.; Wheye, Darryl (1988). The Birders Handbook (First ed.). New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. pp. 29–31.  
  • Gotch, A. F. (1995) [1979]. "Albatrosses, Fulmars, Shearwaters, and Petrels". Latin Names Explained. A Guide to the Scientific Classifications of Reptiles, Birds & Mammals. New York, NY: Facts on File. p. 191.  
  • Harrison, Colin; Greensmith, Alan (1993). "Non-Passerines". In Bunting, Edward. Birds of the World (First ed.). New York, NY: Dorling Kindersley. p. 48.  
  • Rattenborg, Niels, C. (11 May 2006). "Do Birds Sleep in Flight?". Naturwissenschatten, Vol. 93 Number 9.
  • Remsen Jr., J. V.; et al. (30 Jan 2009). "Proposal (388) to South American Classification Committee: Split Diomedea exulans into four species". South American Classification Committee. American Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 17 Feb 2009. 
  • Richardson, Michael (27 Sep 2002). "Endangered seabirds / New fishing techniques undercut an old talisman : Modern mariners pose rising threat to the albatross." Herald Tribune.
  • Robertson, C. J. R. (2003). "Albatrosses (Diomedeidae)". In Hutchins, Michael. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia. 8 Birds I Tinamous and Ratites to Hoatzins (2 ed.). Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group. pp. 113–116, 118–119.  
  • Shirihai, Hadoram (2002) [2002]. "Great Albatrosses". Antarctic Wildlife The birds and mammals. Finland: Alula Press. p. 90.  
  • Weimerskirch, Henri (Oct 2004). "Wherever the Wind May Blow." Natural History Magazine.
  • Lindsey, T.R. 1986. The Seabirds of Australia. Angus and Robertson, and the National Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife Sydney.
  • Marchant, S. and Higgins, P.J. (eds) 1993. Handbook of Australian New Zealand And Antarctic Birds Vol. 2: (Raptors To Lapwings). Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
  • Parmelee, D.F. 1980. Bird Island in Antarctic Waters. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.


  1. ^ a b c  
  2. ^ a b Brand, S. (2008)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Robertson, C. J. R. (2003)
  4. ^ Clements, J. (2007)
  5. ^ Remsen Jr., J. V. (2009)
  6. ^ "Gibson's Albatross (Diomedea gibsoni) Robertson & Warham, 1992". Avibase. Retrieved 25 January 2012. 
  7. ^ "Gibson’s Albatross". Species Profile and Threats Database. Dept of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Australia. 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-27. 
  8. ^ Burg, T. M.; Croxall, J. P. (2004). "Global population structure and taxonomy of the wandering albatross species complex" (PDF). Molecular Ecology 13 (8): 2345–2355.  
  9. ^ Gotch, A. F. (1995)
  10. ^ a b c Dunn, Jon, L. & Alderfer, Jonathan (2006)
  11. ^ a b c d e Wood, Gerald (1983). The Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats.  
  12. ^ a b Shaffer, S. A., Weimerskirch, H., & Costa, D. P. (2001). Functional significance of sexual dimorphism in Wandering Albatrosses, Diomedea exulans. Functional Ecology, 15(2), 203-210.
  13. ^ Rattenborg, N. C. (2006)
  14. ^ Weimerskirch, H. (2004)
  15. ^ Richardson, M. (2002)
  16. ^ a b c d Harrison, C. & Greensmith, A. (1993)
  17. ^ a b c d e f BirdLife International (2008)
  18. ^ [1]/
  19. ^ "Encyclopedia of the Antarctic, v. 1 & v. 2. Beau Riffenburgh (Editor). Routledge, ISBN 978-0-415-97024-2.
  20. ^ CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses by John B. Dunning Jr. (Editor). CRC Press (1992), ISBN 978-0-8493-4258-5.
  21. ^ Weimerskirch, H., Shaffer, S. A., Mabille, G., Martin, J., Boutard, O., & Rouanet, J. L. (2002). Heart rate and energy expenditure of incubating wandering albatrosses: basal levels, natural variation, and the effects of human disturbance. Journal of Experimental Biology, 205(4), 475-483.
  22. ^ a b CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses, 2nd Edition by John B. Dunning Jr. (Editor). CRC Press (2008), ISBN 978-1-4200-6444-5.
  23. ^ Xavier, J., Croxall, J., Trathan, P., & Rodhouse, P. (2003). Inter-annual variation in the cephalopod component of the diet of the wandering albatross, Diomedea exulans, breeding at Bird Island, South Georgia. Marine Biology, 142(3), 611-622.
  24. ^ Burg, T. M., & Croxall, J. P. (2004). Global population structure and taxonomy of the wandering albatross species complex. Molecular Ecology, 13(8), 2345-2355.
  25. ^ Ehrlich, Paul R. (1988)
  26. ^ [2], Is foraging efficiency a key parameter in aging? (2010)
  27. ^ Shihirai 2002 p.90
  28. ^ "Matau Toroa (Albatross hook)". Collections Online. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Retrieved 17 July 2010. 
  29. ^ "Koauau (flute)". Collections Online. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Retrieved 17 July 2010. 
  30. ^ "Uhi Ta Moko (tattooing instruments)". Collections Online. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Retrieved 17 July 2010. 
  31. ^ "Matau (fish hook)". Collections Online. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Retrieved 17 July 2010. 


See also

The Prince Edward Islands are a nature preserve, and the Macquarie Islands are a World Heritage site. Finally, large parts of the Crozet Islands and the Kerguelen Islands are a nature preserve.[17]

The biggest threat to their survival is longline fishing; however, pollution, mainly plastics and fishing hooks, are also taking a toll.

[17] In 2007, there were an estimated 25,500 adult birds, broken down to 1,553 pairs on

The IUCN lists the wandering albatross as vulnerable status.[1] Adult mortality is 5% to 7% per year.[3] It has an occurrence range of 64,700,000 km2 (25,000,000 sq mi), although its breeding range is only 1,900 km2 (730 sq mi).


The Maori of New Zealand used albatross as a food source. They caught them by baiting hooks.[28] Because the wing bones of albatross were light but very strong Maori used these to create a number of different items including koauau (flutes),[29] needles, tattooing chisel blades,[30] and barbs for fish hooks.[31]

Sailors used to capture the birds for their long wing bones, which they manufactured into tobacco-pipe stems. 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 he who shot with his cross-bow the "bird of good omen" is familiar to readers of Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The metaphor of "an albatross around his neck" also comes from the poem and indicates an unwanted burden causing anxiety or hindrance. In the days of sail the bird often accompanied ships for days, not merely following it, but wheeling in wide circles around it without ever being observed to land on the water. It continued its flight, apparently untired, in tempestuous as well as moderate weather.

Relationship with humans

The wandering albatross breeds on Crozet Islands, Kerguelen Islands, Prince Edward Islands, and Macquarie Island, is seen feeding year round off the Kaikoura Peninsula on the east coast of the south island of New Zealand[27] and it ranges in all the southern oceans from 28° to 60°.[1]

Individual taking off


Wandering albatross at South Georgia Island

The wandering albatross breeds every other year.[16] At breeding time they occupy loose colonies on isolated island groups in the Southern Ocean. They lay one egg that is white, with a few spots, and is about 10 cm (3.9 in) long. They lay this egg between 10 December and 5 January. The nests are a large bowl built of grassy vegetation and soil peat,[3] that is 1 metre wide at the base and half a metre wide at the apex. Incubation takes about 11 weeks and both parents are involved.[16] They are a monogamous species, usually for life. Adolescents return to the colony within six years; however they will not start breeding until 11 to 15 years.[10] About 30% of fledglings survive.[3]

Diomedea exulans - Muséum de Toulouse


They are night feeders[16] and feed on cephalopods, small fish, and crustaceans[3] and on animal refuse that floats on the sea, eating to such excess at times that they are unable to fly and rest helplessly on the water. They are prone to following ships for refuse. They can also make shallow dives.


Pairs of wandering albatrosses mate for life and breed every two years. Breeding takes place on subantarctic islands and commences in early November. The nest is a mound of mud and vegetation, and is placed on an exposed ridge near the sea. During the early stages of the chick's development, the parents take turns sitting on the nest while the other searches for food. Later, both adults hunt for food and visit the chick at irregular intervals.


Wanderers have a large range of displays from screams and whistles to grunts and bill clapping.[3] When courting they will spread their wings, wave their heads, and rap their bills together, while braying.[17] They can live for over 50 years.[26]


Wandering albatrosses have the largest wingspan of any living bird.

Breeding population and trends[17]
Location Population Date Trend
South Georgia Islands 1,553 pair 2006 Decreasing 4%/year
Prince Edward Island 1,850 pair 2003 Stable
Marion Island 1,600 pair 2008
Crozet Islands 2,000 pair 1997 Declining
Kerguelen Islands 1,100 pair 1997
Macquarie Island 10 pair 2006
Total 26,000 2007


[25] that is situated above the nasal passage and helps desalinate their bodies, due to the high amount of ocean water that they imbibe. It excretes a high saline solution from their nose.salt gland They also have a [17] The adults have white bodies with black and white wings. Males have whiter wings than females with just the tips and trailing edges of the wings black. They also show a faint peach spot on the side of the head. The wandering albatross is the whitest of the wandering albatross species complex, the other species having a great deal more brown and black on the wings and body as breeding adults, very closely resembling immature wandering albatrosses. The large bill is pink, as are the feet.[3] varies with age, with the juveniles starting chocolate brown. As they age they become whiter.plumage The [24][22]) are smaller but are now generally deemed to belong to different species.D. e. exulans Albatrosses from outside the "snowy" wandering albatross group ([23]

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