- Status: Vulnerable
- Known as: Wandering Albatross, White-winged albatross, snowy albatross.
- Estimated numbers left in the wild: 20,000 adults.
- Fun fact: Wandering albatrosses can eat to such excess at times that they are unable to fly and have to rest helplessly on the water.
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Vast and graceful, the wandering albatross spreads its wings towards the south like the biblical hawk, cruising the southern hemisphere’s skies 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 ocean’s deep blue, 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 island’s limited land. They sleep on the water’s surface and spend days gliding and flying in search of food.
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The birds are night feeders. Squid and fish schools are their favored feeding areas, though they also follow fishing boats to gobble up refuse – and thus possibly run afoul of long-line fishing lines.
They are prodigious wanderers and can travel up to 6,000 kilometers in twelve days. Patagonian toothfish is a favorite food, but any squid or fish that can be seized at the surface in the bird’s powerful beak will do.
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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-centimeter egg, which is cared for alternately by both parents.
The young albatross takes about nine months to fledge, during which time its parents feed it. 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.
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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 outside the Antarctic Circle to breed, including Prince Edward Island, Crozet Island, South Georgia Island, and Macquarie Island.
Its living range covers 65 million square kilometers, and its breeding area is confined to just under 2,000 square kilometers.
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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 plastics’ ingestion 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.
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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 the 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.
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Do you know of or are you a part of an organization that works to conserve the Amsterdam Albatross? Then please contact us to have it featured on Our Endangered World.