Status: Critically endangered
Known as: Amsterdam Albatross, Amsterdam wandering albatross
Estimated numbers left in wild: Perhaps 18 to 25 breeding pairs
Once thought to be a subspecies of the wandering albatross, DNA testing has proven that the Amsterdam albatross is, indeed, a separate species. The Amsterdam albatross is an enormous bird, with a total body length of 110 to 122 centimetres and a wingspan of up to 340 centimetres. This bird weighs approximately 5 to 8 kilograms. The back of the adult bird is a medium to dark brown in colour, while the undersides are white and the face has a white mask. The chick has white feathers and both young and adults have a pink beak.
Breeding habits: The Amsterdam albatross breeds only every other year and only in one specific location. The male birds arrive before the females do and nesting begins in the early part of the year (the Southern Hemisphere summer), and both parents brood the single egg. Once the chick hatches, it is fed every 3 days by the parents, who will travel an astounding 2,200 kilometres in search of food if suitable prey is not available closer to Amsterdam Island. The parents provide so much food to the chick that it will eventually come to weigh more than the mother or father.
It is believed that the Amsterdam albatross only comes ashore to nest and spends the rest of its time in flight. However, so little is known about this rare albatross that its post-nesting distribution is basically unknown. It is thought that it feeds on squid, fish and crustaceans.
Location: The Amsterdam albatross is found only on Amsterdam Island, French Southern Territories, in the southern Indian Ocean, roughly parallel with the southern coast of Australia.
This is a volcanic island and the birds nest on a high plateau that forms part of the cone at an altitude of between 500–600 meters above sea level.
Threats: It is likely that the Amsterdam albatross was never plentiful, but a series of unfortunate events have left it on the brink of extinction. Although sailors in the 18th and 19th Centuries did stop on the island for food, including the albatrosses, the greatest threat is from introduced animals. A failed attempt to settle the island resulted in cattle and goats being left behind when the settlers left. From a mere 5 cattle, the number blossomed to over 2,000 and these are primarily responsible for the destruction of the albatross’ nesting places and for direct damage to the nesting birds and chicks. Goats, of course, were in the process of eliminating every bit of foliage on the island, and introduced dogs, pigs, cats, mice, and rats have played havoc with eggs, chicks, and adult birds. Just when it was thought that the tide had turned in favour of the albatross, a bacterial disease, brought by other sea-birds, began to affect the nesting albatrosses.
Conservation efforts: The only permanent human residents on Amsterdam Island (a French possession) are scientists and some soldiers. Because the feral cattle are also a rare species, a fence has been constructed to keep them away from the nesting albatrosses, but goats have been eradicated as have the dogs and pigs. Efforts are being made to eliminate the cats as well and to control the rodents. Access to the island is strictly controlled, and a second fence to keep the cattle away from nesting areas has been built. Because longline fishing has resulted in some Amsterdam albatross deaths, officials have worked with fishermen to reduce these casualties.
Do you know of or are you a part of an organisation that work to conserve the Amsterdam Albatross, then please contact us to have it featured on Our Endangered World.