albatross (Diomedeidae) is a marine feathered giant which has the longest wingspan of all birds wild, the wandering albatross is the largest of about two dozen different species.

They use their formidable wingspans to ride with the ocean winds and sometimes to glide for hours without resting or even flapping. They also float on the surface of the sea, although their position makes them vulnerable to aquatic predators. They drink salt water, same as other seabirds.

An albatross in flight.
An albatross in flight.

Features

Like petrels, albatrosses have three fully webbed toes, while the hind toe is absent or represented by a claw.

The bill of an albatross is 10 or more cm long and very thick, with a powerful hook at the end. On either side of the base of the beak (instead of being together at the top, as with the petrel), the nostrils open from round horizontal tubes.

The wings are extremely long and pointed, the tail is short and somewhat rounded, and the body feathers form a thick enough coat to withstand both water and intense cold. And like all birds, It's a vertebrate animal.

There are two genera of albatrosses: Diomedea, which contains 12 of the 14 species, and Phoebetria, which incorporates the remaining 2 species. The albatross belongs to the family Diomedeidae, in the order Procellariiformes, class Aves. The largest and best known of the species is the wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans), an imposing white bird with a wing span of approximately 3,7 meters, the longest of all living seabirds.

Behavior

It is the most efficient species in the air. Instead of flying, it glides through the air with its tapered wings which would consume less energy. This giant bird practices a special flight technique, known as dynamic flight, during which it uses updrafts of wind just above the waves to provide additional lift for considerably longer periods of time.

In addition, it has excellent vision and sense of smell which makes it an intelligent and quick bird to capture prey from the surface of the water.

Habitat

The South Pacific Ocean It is known to be the natural habitat of albatrosses. Most of his life is spent flying in the air. Typically nests in large colonies on the cliffs of remote rocky islands within the Antarctic Tundra. So far, 21 different species of albatross have been identified.

Distribution

Most albatrosses are found in the southern hemisphere: Antarctica, Australia, South Africa, South America.

Only 3 species of albatross are found exclusively in the North Pacific (Hawaii, Japan, California, and Alaska): the short-tailed albatross, the black-legged albatross, and the Laysan albatross.

The Galapagos albatross is an exception that breeds on the equatorial Galapagos islands and feeds off the South American coast.

Food

The diet of the albatross is based mainly on squid or banks of fish, but they are familiar to sailors because they sometimes follow ships in hopes of eating their garbage or getting something.

They feed on the food that rises to the surface of the sea. However, they can also be submerged in water. Some species of albatross can dive well below 5 meters to reach their food. They are carnivorous animals.

The albatross spends most of its life flying.
The albatross spends most of its life flying.

Predators

Due to their large size and they spend most of their lives flying, they have almost no natural predators. Except for human who hunt them for their feathers, in some regions for their meat and those who are fished for Sharks while diving for food.

Reproduction

The reproduction process begins when sexually mature adults, both male and female, mate at 3 to 4 years of age. Only one egg of up to half a kilogram is laid by the female.

Depending on the size of the species, it takes 2-3 months for the parents to incubate the egg. Special care and protection is provided to the chick until it is able to fly. Again, depending on the size of the species, the chicks can take 5-10 months to hatch. Life expectancy is normally very high. The half-life of this long-lived bird is between 40 and 50 years.

State of conservation

It is classified as an endangered animal (EN) due to several factors.

Bycatch represents the greatest threat to almost all albatross species. They dive for the fish bait before it sinks into the sea, snags on the hook and drowns.

They breed on remote islands, forming large colonies. However, these spaces are shrinking due to the impact of invasive species. Rats feed on the eggs in nests and rabbits can quickly destroy a nesting area with their burrows.

Albatrosses drown on our garbage. Every year tens of thousands of albatross chicks in the Pacific Ocean die from drowning or poisoning from plastics and other human waste that their parents mistakenly give them.

Relationship with humans

Some species of albatrosses were hunted for feathers that were used as down and in the manufacture of women's hats. The Laysan albatross was important to indigenous hunters in the North Seas. Excavations from the Aleut and Eskimo settlements reveal many albatross bones and suggest that birds were an important part of the human diet in the region.

Popular culture

They have a special place in maritime tradition and superstition, most memorably evoked in the poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner de Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which is about a group of sailors who go to the high seas, see an albatross and one of them shoots it, thus causing a dense fog.

This poem made this bird popular as it indicated that they embodied the souls of sailors who drowned under the sea.

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