Known as: Wandering Albatross, White-winged albatross, snowy albatross.
Estimated numbers left in the wild: 20,000 adults.
Vast and graceful, the wandering albatross spreads its wings towards the south like the biblical hawk, cruising the skies of the southern hemisphere on pinions that spread up to 3.5 meters, the largest wingspan found in any living bird. These albatrosses measure 1.1 meters long and can weigh 10 kilograms. Their snowy white feathers and black and white wings give them a handsome appearance, especially contrasted with the deep blue of the ocean, while their beaks are long, sturdy, and yellowish, adapted for snapping up prey.
The wandering albatross is superbly adapted for soaring flight despite its large size, and can glide for hours before it needs to beat its wings to regain height. When not breeding, these birds spend all their time at sea, far from even the limited land of an island. They sleep on the water’s surface and spend the days gliding and flying in search of food.
Diet: The birds are night feeders. Squid and fish schools are their favoured feeding areas, though they also follow fishing boats to gobble up refuse – and thus possible run afoul of long-line fishing lines also. They are prodigious wanderers and can travel up to 6,000 kilometres in twelve days. Patagonian toothfish is a favourite food, but any squid or fish that can be seized at the surface in the bird’s powerful beak will do.
Breeding habits: Albatrosses mate for life and nest in colonies on remote southern islands close to the Antarctic circle. They build large nests out of moss and other vegetation and lay a single elongated, 10 centimetre egg, which is cared for alternately by both parents. The young albatross takes about nine months to fledge, during which time it is fed by its parents. If they do not run afoul of fishing lines or die from ingested plastic garbage, albatrosses can live for up to half a century in the wild.
Location:The wandering albatross is found over the oceans of the southern hemisphere. Airborne for much of their lives, these huge birds also rest on the sea’s surface. They travel to a handful of islands just outside the Antarctic Circle to breed, including Prince Edward Island, Crozet Island, South Georgia Island, and Macquerie Island.
Its living range covers 65 million square kilometres, and its breeding area is confined to just under 2,000 square kilometres.
Threats: The wandering albatross is relatively well protected, both by its remote location and by laws. However, its population is still slowly declining for slightly mysterious reasons. The most likely culprits are long-line fishing fatalities, as the birds become hooked and drown, and ingestion of plastics, which can kill both chicks and adults. The birds were once hunted for feathers for women’s hats, but this practice is long gone thanks to changing fashion. Kerguelen Island is infested with feral cats which have wiped out entire broods of chicks.
Conservation efforts: The islands where the wandering albatross nests are thoroughly protected as nature reserves and in one case as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Improved long-line fishing regulations have dramatically reduced by-catch of these beautiful animals and more measures are being developed. Cats have been exterminated from another island they colonized and further extirpation efforts are being carried out or are planned.
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.