The sight of this familiar seabird and its huge wingspan flying above the waters has captured the human imagination and inspired myths and folklore around the world for many centuries. He is a true survivor with all kinds of unique adaptations to cope with the stress of long periods at sea. But competition with humans for food caused the numbers to drop rapidly.
According to an ancient myth of navigation, the albatross contains the soul of a dead sailor killed at sea. This could be a good omen or a bad omen, depending on who believes it, but this rather solemn belief hasn’t necessarily stopped people from killing or eating them.
This was an important plot point in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1798 poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. After the main character of the story kills an albatross, his ship is visited by a series of misfortunes and his fellow sailors force him to carry the dead bird around his head in retaliation. This is the origin of the term “albatross around the neck”.
The word albatross derives from an Arabic word al-qadus or al-gaṭṭas which literally means “the diver”. The Portuguese later adapted it to the word alcatraz (as in modern American prison). This was later absorbed by the British as albatrosses.
Except for the breeding season, the albatross is in almost constant motion. A typical individual can travel thousands of miles every year.
An alternative name for the albatross is a goony bird due to the comical way it lands on the ground, rolling forward.
Bird watching is a popular hobby around the world. Northern New Zealand’s king albatross colonies attract around 40,000 people annually.
The scientific name of the albatross is Diomedeidae. This comes from the ancient Greek hero Diomedes, who is said to have participated in the Trojan War. According to one legend, albatrosses sang to death. Since the classification of the albatross is controversial, there are between 13 and 24 species, depending on who is counting.
For example, taxonomists still debate whether the royal albatross is a single species or two northern and southern species. The albatross belongs to the Procellariiformes family along with petrels, shearwaters, and other seabirds. The last common ancestor of this family probably lived over 30 million years ago.
Albatross Bird Appearance
The albatross is a strong, large-bodied bird with some variation in white, black or gray coloration (some species have only one color: the southern royal albatross is almost entirely white). The long orange or yellow beak has a hook at the end and contains many plates with horns. It also has tubes along the side that allow you to measure your speed in flight.
The most impressive physical feature is the large size of the wingspan. Judging by the size of the wings, the great albatross (and the wandering albatross species in particular) is the largest group of living birds in the world, spanning 11 feet from tip to tip. It also weighs up to 22 pounds or about the same size as a swan. Even the smallest species have a wingspan of around 6.5 feet, more than most birds.
The wings are stiff and arched because the albatross rarely flaps them. Instead, the bird glides on ocean winds for long periods with minimal body movement. This is a necessary adaptation because they have a lot of weight to carry. It also means that they cannot fly very well in the absence of wind. But the advantage is that the albatross uses almost no energy when flying.
The albatross adapts very well for long periods at sea. They combine the ability to fly through the air (with minimal effort) with the ability to float on water. Although most vulnerable in the water, the albatross needs to come down from time to time to feed and drink from the ocean. You have a specialized organ that excretes the excess salt you eat while drinking.
Although suitable for life at sea, the albatross sometimes stops on remote islands to rest. They also return to land during the breeding season and congregate in large colonies which vary in density depending on the species. They seem to be instinctively drawn to the colony of their birth.
Albatross Bird Habitat
The albatross is a native resident of the Southern Hemisphere around Antarctica, South America, South Africa, and Australia. In the past, it had a widespread distribution over much of the Northern Hemisphere, but now only a few species inhabit the North Pacific region between Alaska, California, Hawaii, and Japan.
With the ability to eat shellfish and drink saltwater, the albatross has little trouble crossing open oceans. The only thing you really need is a strong wind to survive. He has trouble crossing areas where there are gaps in the wind.
Albatross Bird Diet
The albatross diet consists of squid, krill, schools of fish, and, much less commonly, zooplankton (microscopic marine animals). This seabird is also not shy when looking for food. They will crawl behind boats to consume their trash or feast on dead carrion floating on the surface of the water. The exact nature of their diet varies from species to species.
Unlike other predominant seabirds such as penguins, most species (such as the wandering albatross) have the ability to dive only a few feet underwater, making it difficult to obtain the food needed to sustain themselves. If you observe prey from above, some species can quickly dive into the water to catch it.
Predators and Threats
Because it spends so much time floating above the ocean (where other large carnivores do not reside), the albatross has few predators, although tiger sharks sometimes prey on young and introduced species like cats and rats sometimes feast on the eggs of albatross. .
The only other major predator is humanity.
Some Arctic people may have hunted it as a major food source in the arid north. Its feathers were also valuable for creating luxury hats. However, the biggest threat to their survival may be the decline in food stocks due to overfishing.
The albatross faces constant competition with humans for scarce resources in the open ocean. Another threat is marine pollution which builds up in the environment and gradually moves up the food chain. Slow poisoning can cause abnormal development, reproduction, and death.
Babies, and Lifespan
After spending long months at sea, the albatross will migrate to remote islands and coastal areas to reproduce. The albatross is quite demanding in the choice of its mate. Since many species mate for life, they cannot afford to choose the wrong mate. They perform (in human terms) an elaborate song and dance routine to communicate their sexual availability.
This is accompanied by governing, fixing, contacting the account, calling, and indicating. In young birds, this ritual must be honed and perfected through years of trial and error. Over time, he reduces his possible partners to a single chosen one. The whole intricate process is integral to your survival.
After mating with a mate, the albatross is generally ready for life. Even if the couple has difficulty conceiving, they rarely separate. Since the bond is strong enough, they have great faith in each other. Together they hatch the egg, raise the young and build a large nest with grass, earth, bushes, and even feathers. They usually choose a location in a high area with multiple approach angles.
After copulation, they produce only one egg per breeding season and generally skip a year before reproducing again. The young chick hatches a few months later undeveloped and heavily dependent on its parents for almost everything. In the early stages of life, parents alternate protective duties and food-gathering trips. They give the chick a mixture of krill, fish, squid, and an oily substance produced in the stomach by other digested prey.
Due to the low supply due to the floods, development is slow and difficult. It will take a few weeks before the chick is old enough to defend itself. It takes another 3-10 months before it is fully developed (which means it acquires the ability to fly) and starts hunting on its own. The young albatross spends the next 5-10 years at sea and only reproduces again when it reaches sexual maturity. The life expectancy of the albatross is up to 50 years, but some more long-lived specimens have been observed. Many albatrosses do not survive the juvenile stage.
Albatross Bird Population
Decades of human neglect have left the albatross in ruins. Of all the species included in the IUCN Red List, nearly all are threatened in some way. The Laysan albatross, which has a natural range that spans the entire Pacific, is a nearly threatened species with approximately 1.6 million mature individuals still remaining in the wild.
At the other end of the spectrum, the critically endangered wavy albatross and Tristan’s albatross have only a few thousand limbs each. Most species exist somewhere in between these two extremes, with 10,000-100,000 mature individuals remaining. For example, the giant wandering albatross is vulnerable with 20,000 left.
Environmentalists believe that better management of existing fish stocks will be needed to rehabilitate the number of albatrosses. The restoration of habitats and the ban on certain chemical contaminations will also help in this regard. It is not enough for the United States or any other country to act. As albatrosses roam such vast territories (and as changes in one part of the ocean can alter other parts), an international effort will be needed to be successful.