Te Papa

Wandering albatross | Toroa

Diomedea exulans linnaeus, 1758.

Order: Procellariiformes

Family: Diomedeidae

New Zealand status: Native

Conservation status: Migrant

Other names: snowy albatross

Geographical variation: Nil

Wandering albatross | Toroa. Adult in flight. South Georgia, February 2019. Image © Glenn Pure 2019 birdlifephotography.org.au by Glenn Pure

Wandering albatross | Toroa. Adult in flight. South Georgia, February 2019. Image © Glenn Pure 2019 birdlifephotography.org.au by Glenn Pure

  • Species Information
  • Breeding and ecology

Wandering albatrosses are among the largest birds in the New Zealand marine area, surpassed only slightly by the southern royal albatross for size. Together, these are the largest of the great albatrosses, of which four species occur in New Zealand waters. The wandering albatross is most similar to the slightly smaller and darker Antipodean albatross, and the two are often lumped together as one species under the wandering albatross name. Here we use wandering albatross to refer only to the larger form that does not breed in the New Zealand region (other than a few pairs on Macquarie Island).

Great albatrosses have an impressive wingspan and slow gliding flight, which distinguishes them from other smaller groups (e.g. gulls and mollymawks). They are normally found offshore, but can be seen in southern New Zealand waters and northwards to Cook Strait, and in lower numbers further north. Care is needed to separate wandering and Antipodean albatrosses, as their plumage markings overlap almost completely. The most reliable distinguishing characteristics are the larger size, and especially the larger bill of the true wanderer.

Identification

The adult wandering albatross is a very large white bird with variable amounts of black on the enormous (3 m wingspan) wings and a pinkish-salmon coloured bill. Some adults have a pinkish stain behind the ears. The wandering albatross has numerous, graduated plumage phases, from chocolate brown juveniles with white faces and underwings through to mature males that are pure white apart from their black wing tips and trailing edge to the wing. At close range, even the whitest birds usually have fine dark vermiculations on their body feathers (not present in the royal albatrosses). Most wandering albatrosses (and Antipodean albatrosses) have upper wings that are either completely dark or have a large white patch in the centre of the inner wing that expands as the bird gets older. All but the whitest colour variations of wandering albatross are also seen in the Antipodean albatross, which is slightly smaller with a smaller bill, most apparent if the birds settle on the water together.

Voice: wandering albatrosses are mainly silent at sea. At breeding grounds they give a high-pitched trumpeting call, and also groans, rattles, and ‘puck’ sounds.

Similar species: the two royal albatross species are bulkier birds with a hunch-backed look in flight, and a fine dark cutting edge to the upper mandible (this can be difficult to see in flying birds). Royal albatrosses are much whiter birds, and (except for juvenile northern royal albatrosses) rarely have dark feathers anywhere other than the upperwings, which tend to whiten from the leading edge back, looking like the bird has flown through a bag of flour (cf. wandering and Antipodean albatrosses whitening from the centre of the wing outwards). Antipodean albatrosses (including Gibson’s albatross) never get as white as the whitest wandering albatrosses, and usually have at least a dark skull cap. Other than mature ‘snowy’ male wandering albatrosses, the two species can only be separated by size, with Antipodean albatross smaller with a shorter and less robust bill. Extra-limital Tristan albatross and Amsterdam albatross have the same plumage states as Antipodean albatross, though Amsterdam albatross has a dark cutting edge to the upper mandible.

Distribution and habitat

Wandering albatrosses breed on South Georgia and on Crozet, Kerguelen, Marion, Prince Edward, Heard and Macquarie Islands, and range throughout the Southern Ocean in latitudes from Antarctic to subtropical waters. Non-breeding birds from the Crozet Islands (and to a lesser extent other populations) frequent New Zealand waters. Non-breeding birds from the Crozet Islands (breeders in their sabbatical year, and pre-breeding birds) may spend extensive periods in the deep waters in both the Tasman Sea and the eastern waters of New Zealand from the subantarctic to latitudes around East Cape.

Wandering albatrosses breed outside of the New Zealand region, in the southern Indian and Atlantic Oceans and at Macquarie Island south-west of New Zealand. A global population of c. 8050 breeds biannually.

Threats and conservation

Threats to wandering albatrosses at breeding sites are few, as they breed mainly on sites with few or no predators. Threats in the marine environment consist principally of fisheries interactions, with population decreases linked to fishing mortality, particularly in longline fisheries. Recent studies have shown strong life-history consequences of inter-decadal changes in wind patterns, with stronger winds in the southern latitudes leading to reduced effort required for foraging by breeding birds, and positive population consequences.

Breeding occurs only outside of New Zealand and begins in the Austral spring, continuing for 8-10 months, depending on the site. Wandering albatrosses breed as monogamous pairs no more than once every two years, and have long-term pair bonds. The single large egg is laid in December or early January and is incubated by the parents in alternating shifts for about 11 weeks, with most hatching in March. The chick takes another 7-9 months to fledge; as the full breeding cycle takes 10-12 months, the adults then take a sabbatical year to complete their moult before attempting to breed again. Immature birds return to colonies when 6-10 years old, and typically do not start breeding until 11-15 years old.

Behaviour and ecology

Wandering albatrosses are solitary at sea, though may feed in flocks in association with fishing vessels.

The wandering albatross is essentially a scavenger, feeding on squid (especially) and marine fishes, and mainly within a few metres of the surface. Most prey is captured by surface seizing.

BirdLife factsheet

Do albatrosses have personalities?  Te Papa Channel

ACAP 2012. Agreement for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels. ACAP Species assessment: wandering albatross Diomedea exulans .

del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J (eds) 1992. Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 1, ostrich to ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Marchant, S.; Higgins, P.J. (eds) 1990 . Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds . Vol.1, ratites to ducks. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Onley, D.; Scofield, P. 2007. Albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters of the world . Helm Field Guide, Princeton University Press.

Rolland, V.; Weimerskirch, H.; Barbraud, C. 2010. Relative influence of fisheries and climate on the demography of four albatross species . Global Change Biology 16 : 1910-1922

Tuck, G.; Polacheck, T.; Croxall, J.P.; Weimerskirch, H. 2001. Modelling the impact of fisheries by-catches on albatross populations . Journal of Applied Ecology 38 : 1182-1196.

Weimerskirch, H.; Brothers, N.; Jouventin, P. 1997. Population dynamics of wandering albatross Diomedea exulans and Amsterdam albatross D . amsterdamensis in the Indian Ocean and their relationships with long-line fisheries: conservation implications . Biological Conservation 79 : 257-270.

Recommended citation

Waugh, S.M. 2013 [updated 2022]. Wandering albatross | Toroa. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online . www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz

Length: 120 cm

Weight: 8 - 10 kg

Similar species: Antipodean albatross | Toroa , Southern royal albatross | Toroa , Northern royal albatross | Toroa

A very large white albatross with variable amounts of black on the wings, fine dark vermiculations on body feathers, very large pinkish-salmon bill, and in some adults a pinkish stain behind the ears. There are many graduated plumage phases from chocolate brown juveniles with white faces and underwings to pure white mature males with black wing tips and trailing edge to the wing.

  Calls from pair at nest, with bill clapping

Wandering albatross | Toroa. Four-year-old (banded bird) from Bird Island, South Georgia. West Norfolk Ridge, Tasman Sea, June 2005. Image © Malcolm Pullman by Malcolm Pullman

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Wandering albatross.

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Species: Diomedea exulans Linnaeus

It should be noted that the Snowy Albatross is the largest by far of all the Wandering Albatrosses being second in size only to the Southern Royal Albatross Diomedea epomophora which is only slightly larger. Gibson's Albatross (named after Dough Gibson, founder of the NSWASG) is about 40% smaller than the Snowy. (Lindsay Smith, SOSSA) Peter Milburn photographed this bird 2004 at Wollongong. The bird was banded and its identification confirmed with biometrics as part of SOSSA's programme. Breeding areas Subantarctic islands of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. Also Macquarrie Island. Breeding season Mid-December-February onwards. Dispersal migration Subantarctic range. Fairly common in NZ seas with a northward shift in Winter. Breeds/disperses in alternate years.

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Te Papa’s Blog

The global hunt for the original wandering albatross

Vertebrate Curator Alan Tennyson explores the history of the name of the wandering albatross and the hunt for the original specimens.

The wandering albatross is one of the world’s greatest ocean wanderers, with individuals circumnavigating the Southern Ocean and travelling 120,000 km in a year.

These albatrosses have been among the most high-profile of seabirds ever since reports of their existence in southern oceans reached Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries.

But until now it has been unclear what species we mean when we refer to a ‘wandering albatross’. Our new research paper answers this question.

Albatross flying

The first documented albatross

The father of modern taxonomy, Swede Carl Linnaeus, made the first scientific description of an albatross in 1758.

He called it Diomedea exulans . ‘Diomedea’ refers to Greek Trojan war hero king Diomedes (he was in the wooden horse).

According to legend, after Diomedes’ death, the goddess Venus transformed his followers into birds so that they could stand guard at their king’s grave.

The word ‘exulans’ is Latin for ‘wanderer’, hence the species is known as the wandering albatross.

Which kind of albatross did Linnaeus name?

Most authorities today recognise 21 or so albatross species, including seven giant taxa (with 3 m wingspans) in the Southern Ocean: southern royal albatross, northern royal albatross, Amsterdam albatross, antipodean albatross (with Gibson’s albatross as a subspecies), Tristan albatross, and the wandering albatross.

Linnaeus’ scientific name has long been considered to refer to one of these greater albatrosses but there has been confusion about exactly which kind of giant albatross.

For example, at the time of the publication of our paper (February 2017), Wikipedia said that Linnaeus’ name was ‘based on a specimen from the Cape of Good Hope’, yet our research documents that this is not entirely correct because it was based on multiple birds and not just from the Cape of Good Hope.

Many publications, including a popular 2003 world bird checklist, consider that Diomedea exulans refers to a temperate breeding form of albatross, while numerous other publications use this name for a larger, more southerly breeding form. So who is correct?

Solving the riddle

Linnaeus’ 1758 name was drawn from three previous accounts of albatrosses published between 1681 and 1747. But those accounts included much ambiguity, with the descriptions probably applying to both small temperate breeding forms and very large subantarctic birds, and possibly even to royal albatrosses.

In formal nomenclature, these birds are all part of the ‘type’ series of Linnaeus’ Diomedea exulans .

Linnaeus described the species’ habitat as ‘within the ocean tropics and at the Cape of Good Hope’, which also provides few clues to the species’ identity because all the albatrosses are great ocean travelers and can be found thousands of kilometres from their nesting grounds.

Nevertheless, most of these descriptions probably primarily referred to the most widespread, large form of subantarctic albatross.

One way of solving the riddle of the species’ identity was to re-examine Linnaeus’ type specimens and determine what form they belonged to.

Searching the world for the original Linnaeus’ albatrosses

Our international team (from Australia, Germany, the United States and New Zealand), with the generous help of many museum staff, searched the world’s museums for Linnaeus’ albatross specimens but couldn’t find any.

Apparently all have been lost or destroyed – some by Second World War bombings.

So there was no certain way of determining what kind or kinds of albatross Linnaeus was referring to.

Yet for communication in biology and wildlife management, precision and stability in the scientific names is vital.

We did, however, locate the type specimens of several other large albatrosses.

Taxidermy albatross

Our conclusions

Fortunately taxonomy is governed by strict rules and there was a way to resolve such a tricky nomenclatorial impasse.

By selecting a new type specimen (a ‘neotype’) to represent Linnaeus’ Diomedea exulans , this name could be fixed to the species represented by that neotype bird.

In our new paper we selected an albatross specimen preserved in the American Museum of Natural History, New York, as the neotype of Diomedea exulans Linnaeus.

This specimen was a breeding bird from South Georgia, deep in the South Atlantic, and is a representative of the largest kind of ‘wandering albatross’.

By this action,  Diomedea exulans Linnaeus, becomes the valid name for the large form of the wandering albatross complex.

Apart from nesting at South Georgia, it also nests on subantarctic Indian Ocean islands (Prince Edward, Marion, Crozet, Kerguelen) and south of New Zealand on Macquarie Island.

Our action simultaneously clarifies the scientific names of the other forms of albatross that had previously been referred to as ‘wandering’ albatrosses: the Tristan albatross is Diomedea dabbenena Mathews, 1929, the Amsterdam albatross is Diomedea amsterdamensis Roux, Jouventin, Mougin, Stahl & Weimerskirch, 1983, the antipodean albatross is Diomedea antipodensis antipodensis Robertson & Warham, 1992, and Gibson’s albatross is Diomedea antipodensis gibsoni Robertson & Warham, 1992.

taxidermy albatross

Protecting albatrosses

Unfortunately most kinds of albatross are threatened with extinction – mainly due to being drowned as bycatch in longline fisheries.

As a result, albatrosses are now a focus of global conservation concern.

We hope that knowing how to distinguish between the closely related forms of greater albatross, and being able to describe them with clearly identifiable names, will assist conservation work on these magnificent birds.

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I think that you might be interested in @abandoned_westcork latest Instagram post of a taxidermised albatross.

HI Alan, this is unrelated to the above article but I’m trying to source a copy of your book- ‘Extinct Birds of New Zealand’ which I believe is out of print. I was wondering if you know of any stores that may still have a copy? Many thanks, Rebekah

Hi Rebekah Yes our book has been out of print for some years. Your best bet to find one will be to look for a second-hand copy. regards Alan

Hi Chris Thanks for your comments. I’m interested to hear what else you have found out. I will email you a copy of the full account. cheers Alan

Dear Alan Can you send me a copy of this blog account please. I don’t entirely agree, but no doubt will have to accept. There is good evidence from the linaean specimens illustrations that it should be a small bird (presented at Ottawa IOC in 1986) and there are at least 2-3 specimens in Europe which I have seen and measured which would fit that premise. No doubt we can debate sometime. Not sure that your translation of Lin descript is the same as the one I have. Probably a translation problem. Cheers cjrr

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Snowy Albatross - Chris Wood

  • Procellariiformes
  • Diomedeidae

Snowy Albatross Diomedea exulans

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Identification

Huge albatross of the Southern Ocean; the southernmost breeder of the Wandering Albatross complex (including Snowy, Tristan, Antipodean, and Amsterdam albatrosses). Main colonies on South Georgia in the South Atlantic, and various islands in the southern Indian Ocean, but ranges extensively at sea. Plumage highly variable, starting chocolate-brown with a white face and gradually becoming whiter over many years. Younger birds separated from Southern Royal Albatross by darker tail, brown markings on head and back, and lack of black “lips” on cutting edge of bill. Older birds more difficult to separate; focus on more coarsely marked upperwings, often with conspicuous white patch in center of wing, and lack of black “lips”. Often shows orange stain on cheek, never shown by Southern Royal. Identification from other Wandering-type Albatross, especially “Gibson’s” Antipodean and Tristan, extremely difficult and often presumed by range. Adult male Snowy is the whitest of any Wandering, but intermediate ages often best left unidentified.

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Snowy Albatross

Exotic species.

Exotic species flags differentiate locally introduced species from native species.

Naturalized : Exotic population is self-sustaining, breeding in the wild, persisting for many years, and not maintained through ongoing releases (including vagrants from Naturalized populations). These count in official eBird totals and, where applicable, have been accepted by regional bird records committee(s).

Provisional : Either: 1) member of exotic population that is breeding in the wild, self-propagating, and has persisted for multiple years, but not yet Naturalized; 2) rarity of uncertain provenance, with natural vagrancy or captive provenance both considered plausible. When applicable, eBird generally defers to bird records committees for records formally considered to be of "uncertain provenance". Provisional species count in official eBird totals.

Escapee : Exotic species known or suspected to be escaped or released, including those that have bred but don't yet fulfill the criteria for Provisional. Escapee exotics do not count in official eBird totals.

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Wandering Albatross

Diomedea exulans.

The snowy albatross, also known as the white-winged albatross or goonie, is a majestic seabird belonging to the Diomedeidae family. It is recognized for its impressive wingspan, which is the largest of any living bird, and its predominantly white plumage that becomes whiter with age. The snowy albatross is distinguished by its large pink bill and feet, and the males exhibit whiter wings than females.

Identification Tips

Adult snowy albatrosses have white bodies contrasted with black and white wings. The wings of males are predominantly white, with only the tips and trailing edges presenting as black. This species is the whitest within its complex, with others showing more brown and black on the wings and body. A salt gland above their nasal passage helps them excrete excess salt due to their oceanic diet.

The snowy albatross boasts a wingspan that can exceed 3.5 meters (11 feet), with an average span of around 3.1 meters (10 feet 2 inches). Body length ranges from 107 to 135 cm (3 feet 6 inches to 4 feet 5 inches), with females being slightly smaller than males. Adults typically weigh between 5.9 to 12.7 kg (13 to 28 lb).

Distribution and Habitat

This bird has a circumpolar range in the Southern Ocean and breeds on islands such as South Georgia, Crozet, Kerguelen, Prince Edward, and Macquarie. It is also seen feeding year-round off the coast of New Zealand and is known for its extensive flights, sometimes circumnavigating the Southern Ocean three times in a year.

The snowy albatross is a far-ranging bird, spending most of its life in flight and landing only to breed and feed. It is capable of gliding for hours without flapping its wings, thanks to its large wingspan.

Song & Calls

During courtship, snowy albatrosses engage in a variety of displays, including spreading their wings, head-waving, bill-rapping, and producing a range of vocalizations from screams and whistles to grunts and bill clapping.

Snowy albatrosses are monogamous, often mating for life, and breed biennially. They lay a single white egg with a few spots in a large grassy nest. Incubation takes about 11 weeks, with both parents sharing the responsibility. The chicks are nurtured by both parents, who take turns foraging for food.

Similar Species

The snowy albatross is part of the wandering albatross species complex, which includes the Tristan albatross and the Antipodean albatross. It can be distinguished from its relatives by its whiter plumage and larger size.

Diet and Feeding

These birds feed on cephalopods, small fish, and crustaceans, often foraging further out in the open ocean than other albatross species. They are known to follow ships and can make shallow dives to capture their prey.

Conservation Status

The IUCN lists the snowy albatross as vulnerable. Threats include longline fishing and pollution. Conservation measures have been implemented in some regions to reduce bycatch and protect their breeding grounds.

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More albatrosses, amsterdam albatross, antipodean albatross, tristan albatross, southern royal albatross, northern royal albatross, short-tailed albatross, laysan albatross, waved albatross, black-footed albatross, sooty albatross, light-mantled albatross, buller's albatross, indian yellow-nosed albatross, shy albatross, atlantic yellow-nosed albatross, grey-headed albatross, chatham albatross, campbell albatross, black-browed albatross, salvin's albatross, your birdwatching journey like never before, connect with nature in minutes, discover the joy of birding, play your part in saving nature.

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Toroa, the wandering albatross

Toroa, wandering albatross

From Bree's A History of the Birds of Europe not Observed in the British Isles , 1859–63.

T his last storm has brought a number of casualties here, the raging seas dumping “wrecks” of sea birds on the beaches together with logs and debris from the flooded rivers. The local bird rescuers have been very busy as people bring in birds they have found along the shores, something which has given me the opportunity to observe at close quarters three of the great birds of the Southern Ocean, a wandering albatross, Diomedea exulans , a shy mollymawk, Diomedea cauta , and a giant petrel, Macronectes halli .

Sitting around gathering strength and waiting to be fed, they seem quite content and unperturbed by our presence. They are not injured in any way, just exhausted from struggling with the extreme weather conditions. They will need some help to get up and underway again, back into their natural element, flying about the great Southern Ocean.

Most ornithologists divide the albatrosses into three groups. The first group contains the largest of all flying birds, Toroa, the wandering and royal albatrosses, which are of about equal size and easily recognised by their white backs and tails. It is to this group for which the term “albatross”, as generally understood, is reserved.

The word albatross is supposedly an English corruption of the Portuguese word ‘alcatraz’ meaning large seabird.

The second group includes those albatrosses generally referred to as mollymawks. They are smaller than the great albatrosses and easily distinguished from them by the dark back, wings and tails and usually more colourful bill. The sooty albatrosses make up the third group and are smaller again.

The shy is the largest of the mollymawks and is so named for it was seldom seen following ships. The origin of the word mollymawk is obscure but may be derived from mallemuk, the Dutch or Danish word for “stupid gull” which probably arises their lack of proper fear of humans and by their clumsiness as they walk.

Everyone comments on just how awesome and beautiful is the flight of the albatross but to see them grounded is an equally marvellous experience for they have the most remarkable eyes. The eyes of the shy mollymawk are especially beautiful, so large, gentle and intelligent and hooded by a wash of what is best described as dark mascara. All the albatrosses are credited with powerful eyesight needed to find food tossing and turning on a rough sea. One wonders if their wonderful eyes may have led to some of the superstition about them for the eyes seem almost human.

The other characteristic of these birds which can readily been seen close up is the prominent tubed nostrils. In its long flights around the Southern Ocean, very often not being near land for days and even weeks, the bird requires freshwater so it distils its own and discharges the excess salt from its system through its nostrils.

Albatrosses are among the most long–lived of birds and commonly reach the age of 30–40 years, with a record going to a Royal from the colony at Taiaroa Head near Dunedin, a bird named Grandma who was still producing young past her sixtieth birthday. The albatross is also characterised by its relative tameness, not fearing the approach of humans as most birds do.

Albatrosses are famous for their expressive courtship and affection for their mates. The courtship involves dancing and in some species such as the sooty albatross, daring chases in flight with the following bird repeating every move of the leader. The dances vary between species and are generally made up of actions used in other contexts but which appear to be adapted to the nuptial dance. These dances often have a set series of actions and reactions or responses by the courted partner. All albatrosses and mollymawks perform a form of yappering or croaking, particularly when at a nest site. They all preen their display partner or potential breeding partner, include a form of snap in their repertoire, and move their head and bill as if to preen the body feathers by the wing. The “sky call” performed with wing held out appears to be restricted to the larger albatross species. The complex interactive courtship behaviour resulting in a form of dialogue developing between displaying wandering albatrosses is typical among albatrosses. It seems likely that the complex courtship displays may allow birds, particularly females, which initiate and terminate most displays, to assess and re–assess the quality or compatibility of a potential partners before beginning the process of pair bond formation.

Using the wind, albatrosses can achieve continuous flight without beating their wings. This is known as dynamic soaring. The pattern begins with a dive with the wind behind, a swoop low over the waves and a turn and climb into the wind to attain original height. Dynamic soaring works best in what is called a “good blow”. Albatrosses are able to maintain course in a moderate wind but make leeway when wind speeds exceeds 70kmp.

The sailing ships used to encounter albatrosses while plying the westerly winds between latitudes 40 and 60 degrees, thus the Roaring Forties and the Furious Fifties came to be known as the albatross latitudes. At times they were hooked on fishing lines or shot with a cross bow or guns. One of James Cook’s expeditions records the capture of albatrosses which ended up on the table. Ashore sealers and whalers evidently took eggs and even the birds themselves for food. The use of the skins for feather rugs may have produced an early nickname “cape sheep”. Their webbed feet were converted into tobacco pouches, their bones into pipe stems, breast feathers into muffs and their beaks into paper clips.

The flesh was considered a great delicacy to Maori who preserved it the same way as mutton birds. From the bones they carved spear tips, nose flutes and other artifacts. The secretions from the birds tubular nostrils were the “tears” of the albatross, weeping for its distant home, a motif often used in carving.

The albatross feeds mostly on squid, octopus, salps and fish, a proportion of which is carrion. This scavenging behaviour in the wake of fishing vessels is leading them to becoming a threatened species. It has been calculated that 44,000 albatrosses die each year in the course of taking bait from long lines sometimes set by fishing vessels as long as 100 kilometres. The fishing companies operating in southern waters are being asked by Australia and New Zealand fisheries agencies to adopt techniques that will limit the horrendous by–catch but still the slaughter continues. It is discouraging to think that these two birds which people have gone to so much trouble to save may be drowned on a long line once they have been released.

When the time comes to return these great birds to their proper element, the local Department of Conservation officers will either have to take them out to sea or to some a cliff where they can be encouraged to take off. To take off from the sea the albatross runs on its huge webbed feet until it gains sufficient momentum to lift off. On land it will need some sloping ground on a cliff where it can, facing the wind and running to gain impetus, rise into the air.

Waiotahi Valley , Opotiki, 1999.

wandering albatross nz

From Godman's Monograph of the Petrels, 1907-1910.

wandering albatross

From Edwards' Natural History of Uncommon Birds, and some other Rare and undescribed animals, Quadrupeds, Reptiles, Fishes, Insects , 1743–1751.

wandering albatross

From Buller's Birds of Mew Zealand , 1888.

wandering albatross

Forster, George, unknown publication.

wandering albatross

Wanderer, snowy albatross, Goonie birds, Gooney birds.

Native bird

115 cm., 6.5 kg., variable plumage according to age and race; upper wings black to blackish, all have a huge bill light pink with creamy tip and no black on cutting edges, underwing white but with edge and tips black, tail usually black tipped, legs and feet pinkish to browny grey.

In the New Zealand region, breeding in the Antipodes, Auckland and Campbell Islands. Seen mainly in winter off the coast, especially around Stewart Island and Cook Strait.

»»»   Wandering albatross and black-browed albatross

Bree, Charles Robert, A History of the Birds of Europe not Observed in the British Isles , 1859–63.

Gould, John, Birds of Australia , 1840–48.

Godman, Frederick du Cane, Monograph of the Petrels, 1907-1910.

Edwards, George, Natural History of Uncommon Birds, and some other Rare and undescribed animals, Quadrupeds, Reptiles, Fishes, Insects , 1743–1751.

Buller, Walter Lawry, Birds of Mew Zealand , 1888.

Oliver, W.R.B. New Zealand Birds , 1955.

Poetry:   — 

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner It is an ancient Mariner, And he stoppeth one of three. “By thy long grey beard and glittering eye, Now wherefore stopp’st thou me? “The Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide, And I am next of kin; The guests are met, the feast is set: May’st hear the merry din.” He holds him with his skinny hand, “There was a ship,” quoth he. “Hold off! unhand me, grey–beard loon!” Eftsoons his hand dropt he. He holds him with his glittering eye — The Wedding–Guest stood still, And listens like a three years child: The Mariner hath his will. The Wedding–Guest sat on a stone: He cannot chuse but hear; And thus spake on that ancient man, The bright–eyed Mariner. The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared, Merrily did we drop Below the kirk, below the hill, Below the light–house top. The Sun came up upon the left, Out of the sea came he! And he shone bright, and on the right Went down into the sea. Higher and higher every day, Till over the mast at noon- The Wedding–Guest here beat his breast, For he heard the loud bassoon. The bride hath paced into the hall, Red as a rose is she; Nodding their heads before her goes The merry minstrelsy. The Wedding–Guest he beat his breast, Yet he cannot chuse but hear; And thus spake on that ancient man, The bright–eyed Mariner. And now the storm–blast came, and he Was tyrannous and strong: He struck with his o’ertaking wings, And chased south along. With sloping masts and dipping prow, As who pursued with yell and blow Still treads the shadow of his foe And forward bends his head, The ship drove fast, loud roared the blast, And southward aye we fled. And now there came both mist and snow, And it grew wondrous cold: And ice, mast–high, came floating by, As green as emerald. And through the drifts the snowy clifts Did send a dismal sheen: Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken– The ice was all between. The ice was here, the ice was there, The ice was all around: It cracked and growled, and roared and howled, Like noises in a swound! At length did cross an Albatross: Thorough the fog it came; As if it had been a Christian soul, We hailed it in God–s name. It ate the food it ne–er had eat, And round and round it flew. The ice did split with a thunder–fit; The helmsman steered us through! And a good south wind sprung up behind; The Albatross did follow, And every day, for food or play, Came to the mariners– hollo! In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud, It perched for vespers nine; Whiles all the night, through fog–smoke white, Glimmered the white Moon–shine. “God save thee, ancient Mariner! From the fiends, that plague thee thus!– Why look’st thou so?” — With my cross–bow I shot the albatross. THE Sun now rose upon the right: Out of the sea came he, Still hid in mist, and on the left Went down into the sea. And the good south wind still blew behind But no sweet bird did follow, Nor any day for food or play Came to the mariners’ hollo! And I had done an hellish thing, And it would work ’em woe: For all averred, I had killed the bird That made the breeze to blow. Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay That made the breeze to blow! Nor dim nor red, like God’s own head, The glorious Sun uprist: Then all averred, I had killed the bird That brought the fog and mist. ’Twas right, said they, such birds to slay, That bring the fog and mist. The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew, The furrow followed free: We were the first that ever burst Into that silent sea. Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down, ’Twas sad as sad could be; And we did speak only to break The silence of the sea! All in a hot and copper sky, The bloody Sun, at noon, Right up above the mast did stand, No bigger than the Moon. Day after day, day after day, We stuck, nor breath nor motion; As idle as a painted ship Upon a painted ocean. Water, water, every where, And all the boards did shrink; Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink. The very deep did rot: O Christ! That ever this should be! Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs Upon the slimy sea. About, about, in reel and rout The death–fires danced at night; The water, like a witch’s oils, Burnt green, and blue and white. And some in dreams assured were Of the spirit that plagued us so: Nine fathom deep he had followed us From the land of mist and snow. And every tongue, through utter drought, Was withered at the root; We could not speak, no more than if We had been choked with soot. Ah! well a-day! what evil looks Had I from old and young! Instead of the cross, the Albatross About my neck was hung. “I fear thee, ancient Mariner! I fear thy skinny hand! And thou art long, and lank, and brown, As is the ribbed sea–sand. “I fear thee and thy glittering eye, And thy skinny hand, so brown.”– Fear not, fear not, thou Wedding–Guest! This body dropt not down. Alone, alone, all, all alone, Alone on a wide wide sea! And never a saint took pity on My soul in agony. The many men, so beautiful! And they all dead did lie: And a thousand thousand slimy things Lived on; and so did I. I looked upon the rotting sea, And drew my eyes away; I looked upon the rotting deck, And there the dead men lay. I looked to Heaven, and tried to pray: But or ever a prayer had gusht, A wicked whisper came, and made my heart as dry as dust. I closed my lids, and kept them close, And the balls like pulses beat; For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky Lay like a load on my weary eye, And the dead were at my feet. The cold sweat melted from their limbs, Nor rot nor reek did they: The look with which they looked on me Had never passed away. An orphan’s curse would drag to Hell A spirit from on high; But oh! more horrible than that Is a curse in a dead man’s eye! Seven days, seven nights, I saw that curse, And yet I could not die. The moving Moon went up the sky, And no where did abide: Softly she was going up, And a star or two beside. Her beams bemocked the sultry main, Like April hoar–frost spread; But where the ship’s huge shadow lay, The charmed water burnt alway A still and awful red. Beyond the shadow of the ship, I watched the water–snakes: They moved in tracks of shining white, And when they reared, the elfish light Fell off in hoary flakes. Within the shadow of the ship I watched their rich attire: Blue, glossy green, and velvet black, They coiled and swam; and every track Was a flash of golden fire. O happy living things! no tongue Their beauty might declare: A spring of love gushed from my heart, And I blessed them unaware: Sure my kind saint took pity on me, And I blessed them unaware. The self same moment I could pray; And from my neck so free The Albatross fell off, and sank Like lead into the sea. OH sleep! it is a gentle thing, Beloved from pole to pole! To Mary Queen the praise be given! She sent the gentle sleep from Heaven, That slid into my soul. The silly buckets on the deck, That had so long remained, I dreamt that they were filled with dew; And when I awoke, it rained. My lips were wet, my throat was cold, My garments all were dank; Sure I had drunken in my dreams, And still my body drank. I moved, and could not feel my limbs: I was so light — almost I thought that I had died in sleep, And was a blessed ghost. And soon I heard a roaring wind: It did not come anear; But with its sound it shook the sails, That were so thin and sere. The upper air burst into life! And a hundred fire–flags sheen, To and fro they were hurried about! And to and fro, and in and out, The wan stars danced between. And the coming wind did roar more loud, And the sails did sigh like sedge; And the rain poured down from one black cloud; The Moon was at its edge. The thick black cloud was cleft, and still The Moon was at its side: Like waters shot from some high crag, The lightning fell with never a jag, A river steep and wide. The loud wind never reached the ship, Yet now the ship moved on! Beneath the lightning and the Moon The dead men gave a groan. They groaned, they stirred, they all uprose, Nor spake, nor moved their eyes; It had been strange, even in a dream, To have seen those dead men rise. The helmsman steered, the ship moved on; Yet never a breeze up blew; The mariners all ’gan work the ropes, Were they were wont to do: They raised their limbs like lifeless tools- We were a ghastly crew. The body of my brother’s son, Stood by me, knee to knee: The body and I pulled at one rope, But he said nought to me. “I fear thee, ancient Mariner!” Be calm, thou Wedding–Guest! ’Twas not those souls that fled in pain, Which to their corses came again, But a troop of spirits blest: For when it dawned – they dropped their arms, And clustered round the mast; Sweet sounds rose slowly through their mouths, And from their bodies passed. Around, around, flew each sweet sound, Then darted to the Sun; Slowly the sounds came back again, Now mixed, now one by one. Sometimes a–dropping from the sky I heard the sky–lark sing; Sometimes all little birds that are, How they seemed to fill the sea and air With their sweet jargoning! And now ’twas like all instruments, Now like a lonely flute; And now it is an angel’s song, That makes the Heavens be mute. It ceased; yet still the sails made on A pleasant noise till noon, A noise like of a hidden brook In the leafy month of June, That to the sleeping woods all night Singeth a quiet tune. Till noon we quietly sailed on, Yet never a breeze did breathe: Slowly and smoothly went the ship, Moved onward from beneath. Under the keel nine fathom deep, From the land of mist and snow, The spirit slid: and it was he That made the ship to go. The sails at noon left off their tune, And the ship stood still also. The Sun, right up above the mast, Had fixed her to the ocean: But in a minute she ’gan stir, With a short uneasy motion– Backwards and forwards half her length With a short uneasy motion. Then like a pawing horse let go, She made a sudden bound: It flung the blood into my head, And I fell down in a swound. How long in that same fit I lay, I have not to declare; But ere my living life returned, I heard and in my soul discerned Two voices in the air. “Is it he?” quoth one, “Is this the man? By him who died on cross, With his cruel bow he laid full low, The harmless Albatross. “The spirit who bideth by himself In the land of mist and snow, He loved the bird that loved the man Who shot him with his bow.” The other was a softer voice, As soft as honey-dew: Quoth he, “The man hath penance done, And penance more will do.” BUT tell me, tell me! speak again, Thy soft response renewing– What makes that ship drive on so fast? What is the ocean doing? Still as a slave before his lord, The Ocean hath no blast; His great bright eye most silently Up to the Moon is cast– If he may know which way to go; For she guides him smooth or grim See, brother, see! how graciously She looketh down on him. But why drives on that ship so fast, Without or wave or wind? The air is cut away before, And closes from behind. Fly, brother, fly! more high, more high Or we shall be belated: For slow and slow that ship will go, When the Mariner’s trance is abated. I woke, and we were sailing on As in a gentle weather: ’Twas night, calm night, the Moon was high; The dead men stood together. All stood together on the deck, For a charnel–dungeon fitter: All fixed on me their stony eyes, That in the Moon did glitter. The pang, the curse, with which they died, Had never passed away: I could not draw my eyes from theirs, Nor turn them up to pray. And now this spell was snapt: once more I viewed the ocean green. And looked far forth, yet little saw Of what had else been seen– Like one that on a lonesome road Doth walk in fear and dread, And having once turned round walks on, And turns no more his head; Because he knows, a frightful fiend Doth close behind him tread. But soon there breathed a wind on me, Nor sound nor motion made: Its path was not upon the sea, In ripple or in shade. It raised my hair, it fanned my cheek Like a meadow–gale of spring– It mingled strangely with my fears, Yet it felt like a welcoming. Swiftly, swiftly flew the ship, Yet she sailed softly too: Sweetly, sweetly blew the breeze– On me alone it blew. Oh! dream of joy! is this indeed The light–house top I see? Is this the hill? is this the kirk? Is this mine own countree! We drifted o’er the harbour–bar, And I with sobs did pray– O let me be awake, my God! Or let me sleep alway. The harbour-bay was clear as glass, So smoothly it was strewn! And on the bay the moonlight lay, And the shadow of the moon. The rock shone bright, the kirk no less, That stands above the rock: The moonlight steeped in silentness The steady weathercock. And the bay was white with silent light, Till rising from the same, Full many shapes, that shadows were, In crimson colours came. A little distance from the prow Those crimson shadows were: I turned my eyes upon the deck– Oh, Christ! what saw I there! Each corse lay flat, lifeless and flat, And, by the holy rood! A man all light, a seraph–man, On every corse there stood. This seraph band, each waved his hand: It was a heavenly sight! They stood as signals to the land, Each one a lovely light: This seraph-band, each waved his hand, No voice did they impart– No voice; but oh! the silence sank Like music on my heart. But soon I heard the dash of oars; I heard the Pilot’s cheer; My head was turned perforce away, And I saw a boat appear. The Pilot, and the Pilot’s boy, I heard them coming fast: Dear Lord in Heaven! it was a joy The dead men could not blast. I saw a third – I heard his voice: It is the Hermit good! He singeth loud his godly hymns That he makes in the wood. He’ll shrieve my soul, he’ll wash away The Albatross’s blood. THIS Hermit good lives in that wood Which slopes down to the sea. How loudly his sweet voice he rears! He loves to talk with marineres That come from a far countree. He kneels at morn and noon and eve- He hath a cushion plump: It is the moss that wholly hides The rotted old oak–stump. The skiff-boat neared: I heard them talk, “Why this is strange, I trow! Where are those lights so many and fair, That signal made but now?” “Strange, by my faith!” the Hermit said- “And they answered not our cheer! The planks looked warped! and see those sails, How thin they are and sere! I never saw aught like to them, Unless perchance it were “Brown skeletons of leaves that lag My forest–brook along; When the ivy–tod is heavy with snow, And the owlet whoops to the wolf below, That eats the she–wolf’s young.” “Dear Lord! it hath a fiendish look- (The Pilot made reply) I am a–feared” — “Push on, push on!” Said the Hermit cheerily. The boat came closer to the ship, But I nor spake nor stirred; The boat came close beneath the ship, And straight a sound was heard. Under the water it rumbled on, Still louder and more dread: It reached the ship, it split the bay; The ship went down like lead. Stunned by that loud and dreadful sound, Which sky and ocean smote, Like one that hath been seven days drowned My body lay afloat; But swift as dreams, myself I found Within the Pilot’s boat. Upon the whirl, where sank the ship, The boat spun round and round; And all was still, save that the hill Was telling of the sound. I moved my lips – the Pilot shrieked And fell down in a fit; The holy Hermit raised his eyes, And prayed where he did sit. I took the oars: the Pilot’s boy, Who now doth crazy go, Laughed loud and long, and all the while His eyes went to and fro. “Ha! ha!” quoth he, “full plain I see, The Devil knows how to row.” And now, all in my own countree, I stood on the firm land! The Hermit stepped forth from the boat, And scarcely he could stand. “O shrieve me, shrieve me, holy man!” The Hermit crossed his brow. “Say quick,” quoth he, “I bid thee say– What manner of man art thou?” Forthwith this frame of mine was wrenched With a woeful agony, Which forced me to begin my tale; And then it left me free. Since then, at an uncertain hour, That agony returns; And till my ghastly tale is told, This heart within me burns. I pass, like night, from land to land; I have strange power of speech; That moment that his face I see, I know the man that must hear me: To him my tale I teach. What loud uproar bursts from that door! The wedding–guests are there: But in the garden–bower the bride And bride–maids singing are: And hark the little vesper bell, Which biddeth me to prayer! O Wedding-Guest! this soul hath been Alone on a wide wide sea: So lonely ’twas, that God himself Scarce seemed there to be. O sweeter than the marriage–feast, ’Tis sweeter far to me, To walk together to the kirk With a goodly company!– To walk together to the kirk, And all together pray, While each to his great Father bends, Old men, and babes, and loving friends, And youths and maidens gay! Farewell, farewell! but this I tell To thee, thou Wedding–Guest! He prayeth well, who loveth well Both man and bird and beast. He prayeth best, who loveth best All things both great and small; For the dear God who loveth us He made and loveth all. The Mariner, whose eye is bright, Whose beard with age is hoar, Is gone: and now the Wedding–Guest Turned from the bridegroom’s door. He went like one that hath been stunned, And is of sense forlorn: A sadder and a wiser man, He rose the morrow morn.  — Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Thursday, 3 August, 2023; ver2023v1

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The wandering albatross and the southern royal albatross are the largest of the albatrosses and are amongst the largest of flying birds.

These are the main attraction for most people visiting Albatross Encounter: the great albatrosses.

The great albatrosses are seabirds in the genus Diomedea in the albatross family. The genus  D iomedea formerly included all albatrosses except the sooty albatrosses, but in 1996 the genus was split, with the mollymawks and the North Pacific albatrosses both being elevated to separate genera. The great albatrosses themselves form two species complexes:

  • The wandering albatrosses
  • The royal albatrosses

Below are the five varieties of Great Albatross that can be seen off Kaikoura.

Gibson's Wandering Albatross

Gibson's Wandering Albatross

Gibson’s albatross breed in the Auckland Islands.

In some countries, the Gibson's ( Diomedea exulans gibsoni) and the Antipodean albatross ( Diomedea exulans antipodensis)  are treated as just one species: the Antipodean albatross. But here in New Zealand, we recognise them as two distinct species. The Gibson's albatross is the species you'll see the most of in Kaikoura. Although feeding mainly on squid, Gibson’s are frequent visitors to fishing vessels, with discarded offal and fish processing waste comprising part of their diet. Satellite transmitters have been put on wandering albatross and have shown that birds can travel an incredible 1600km per day. We occasionally see birds with colour bands that have been banded on the Adam’s Island group in the Auckland Islands, some 1000km away.

Snowy Wandering Albatross

Snowy Wandering Albatross

The snowy albatross is the largest of the wandering albatross species

The snowy albatross ( Diomedea exulans exulans ) holds the record in the Guinness Book of Records for having the largest recorded wingspan of any flying bird at 3.6m. Snowy albatross breed around Macquarie, South Georgia, Prince Edward Islands, Crozet and the Kerguelens. They appear much larger and whiter than Gibson’s albatross and you can distinguish them by comparing their size with other species. They are infrequently observed in Kaikoura.

Antipodean Wandering Albatross

Antipodean Wandering Albatross

Antipodean albatross breed mainly on the Antipodes Islands with a few pairs breeding on the Campbell Islands.

The Antipodean albatross ( Diomedea exulans antipodensis)  are sometimes confused with the Gibson’s albatross ( Diomedea exulans gibsoni)  , however Antipodean albatross are smaller in size with a narrow face, darker on the upper wing with a distinctive dark crown. The only definitive way of differentiating between these two species is through the beak length. You can only do that by handling them, so out on the water, it's unlikely you'll know for sure which is which. Despite the Antipodes Islands being closer to Kaikoura than the Auckland Islands, we only occasionally see Antipodean albatross here.

Southern Royal Albatross

Southern Royal Albatross

Can be seen off the Kaikoura Coast throughout the year.

Southern royal albatross ( Diomedea epomophora ) are the heaviest species of albatross, weighing up to 10 - 14kg. Young southern royals leave New Zealand waters and fly circumpolar through the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans, before returning to New Zealand waters to breed as adults when 6-12 years old. They're usually on their own, but sometimes up to three or more birds may be seen around fishing boats. They're mostly an offshore species seen more than three miles off the coast, although they may be seen close to shore during storms. Ninety nine percent of the world’s southern royal albatross population breeds on Campbell Island  with the remaining population breeding on the Auckland Islands.

Northern Royal Albatross

Northern Royal Albatross

Seen throughout the year off the Kaikoura Coast.

Ninety nine percent of the world’s population of northern royal albatross ( Diomedea sanfordi )  breed on the Chatham Islands. The remaining 1% breed on the world’s only mainland breeding colony at Taiaroa Head, near Dunedin. The northern royal albatross was traditionally harvested by the Moriori and then the Māori. The large flight feathers of the larger albatrosses were collected by Māori for ceremonial purposes and were highly prized. Most of the birds sighted originate from the Chatham Islands rather than from Taiaroa Head, although a few banded birds from Taiaroa Head are seen in Kaikoura on an infrequent basis. One bird banded at the Taiaroa Head colony was known as Grandma and lived to 61 years of age.

Recent Bird Sightings

With around 150 species of birds recorded here so far, Kaikoura is one of New Zealand's top birding destinations. The wonderful array of seabirds just offshore are the jewel in the crown with five varieties of Great Albatross , nine varieties of the smaller Lesser Albatross , seven varieties of Shearwaters , fourteen Petrel varieties, and several other seabird varies such as Shags , Prions , Penguins , Gulls and Terns .

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Albatrosses are threatened with extinction – and climate change could put their nesting sites at risk

wandering albatross nz

Postdoctoral research fellow, Department of Plant and Soil Science, University of Pretoria

Disclosure statement

Mia Momberg does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

University of Pretoria provides funding as a partner of The Conversation AFRICA.

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A white bird on a nest on grassy ground, with a fluffy white chick underneath it.

The wandering albatross ( Diomedea exulans ) is the world’s largest flying bird , with a wingspan reaching an incredible 3.5 metres. These birds are oceanic nomads: they spend most of their 60 years of life at sea and only come to land to breed approximately every two years once they have reached sexual maturity.

Their playground is the vast Southern Ocean – the region between the latitude of 60 degrees south and the continent of Antarctica – and the scattered islands within this ocean where they make their nests.

Marion Island and Prince Edward Island , about 2,300km south of South Africa, are some of the only land masses for thousands of kilometres in the Southern Ocean.

Together, these two islands support about half of the entire world’s wandering albatross breeding population, estimated at around 20,000 mature individuals . Every year scientists from South African universities survey Marion Island to locate and record each wandering albatross nest.

The species, listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature , faces huge risks while in the open ocean, in particular due to bycatch from longline fishing trawlers. This makes it important to understand their breeding ecology to ensure that the population remains stable.

White bird settled on grassy ground with the sea in the background.

I was part of a study during 2021 to investigate which environmental variables affect the birds’ choice of nest site on Marion Island. The birds make their nests – a mound of soil and vegetation – on the ground. We looked at wind characteristics, vegetation and geological characteristics at nest locations from three breeding seasons.

Elevation turned out to be the most important variable – the albatrosses preferred a low (warmer) site and coastal vegetation. But these preferences also point to dangers for the birds from climate change. The greatest risk to the availability of nesting sites will be a much smaller suitable nesting range in future than at present. This could be devastating to the population.

Variables influencing nest site selection

Marion Island is of volcanic origin and has a rough terrain. Some areas are covered in sharp rock and others are boggy, with very wet vegetation. There is rain and strong wind on most days. Conducting research here requires walking long distances in all weathers – but the island is ideal for studying climate change, because the Southern Ocean is experiencing some of the largest global changes in climate and it is relatively undisturbed by humans.

Using GPS coordinate nest data from the entire breeding population on Marion Island, we aimed to determine which factors affected where the birds breed. With more than 1,900 nests, and 10,000 randomly generated points where nests are not present, we extracted:

elevation (which on this island is also a proxy for temperature)

terrain ruggedness

distance to the coast

vegetation type

wind turbulence

underlying geology.

White bird standing on the ground and stretching its wings.

The variables were ranked according to their influence on the statistical model predicting the likelihood of a nest being present under the conditions found at a certain point.

The most important variable was elevation. The majority of the nests were found close to the coast, where the elevation is lower. These areas are warmer, which means that the chicks would be less exposed to very cold temperatures on their open nests.

The probability of nests being present also declined with distance from the coast, probably because there are more suitable habitats closer to the coast.

Vegetation type was strongly determined by elevation and distance from the coast. This was an important factor, as the birds use vegetation to build their nests. In addition, dead vegetation contributes to the soil formation on the island, which is also used in nest construction.

White bird on nest on the ground in grassy landscape.

The probability of encountering nests is lower as the terrain ruggedness increases since these birds need a runway of flat space to use for take-off and landing. During incubation, the adults take turns to remain on the nest. Later they will leave the chick on its own for up to 10 days at a time. They continue to feed the chick for up to 300 days.

Areas with intermediate wind speeds were those most likely to have a nest. At least some wind is needed for flight, but too much wind may cause chicks to blow off the nests or become too cold.

Delicate balance

Changing climates may upset this delicate balance. Human-driven changes will have impacts on temperature, rainfall and wind speeds, which in turn affect vegetation and other species distribution patterns .

By 2003, Marion Island’s temperature had increased by 1.2°C compared to 50 years before. Precipitation had decreased by 25% and cloud cover also decreased, leading to an increase in sunshine hours . The permanent snowline which was present in the 1950s no longer exists . These changes have continued in the 20 years since their initial documentation, and are likely to continue.

Strong vegetation shifts were already documented in the sub-Antarctic years ago. Over 40 years, many species have shifted their ranges to higher elevations where the temperatures remain cooler. Wind speeds have also already increased in the Southern Ocean and are predicted to continue doing so, which may have effects on the size of areas suitable for nesting.

If nesting sites move to higher elevations on Marion Island as temperatures warm, and some areas become unsuitable due to changes in vegetation or wind speeds, it is likely that the suitable nesting area on the island will shrink considerably.

Our study adds to what is known about the elements affecting nest-site selection in birds. Notably, we add knowledge of wind, an underexplored element, influencing nest-site selection in a large oceanic bird. The results could also provide insights that apply to other surface-nesting seabirds.

  • Climate change
  • Southern ocean
  • Natural world

wandering albatross nz

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wandering albatross nz

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New Zealand Albatross / Toroa / Diomedeidae

There are 17 species of New Zealand Albatross with 12 of those that breed in New Zealand, including Royal Albatross. There is one additional extinct Albatross species.

Northern Royal Albatross (Diomedea sanfordi), Otago Peninsula, Dunedin, New Zealand

Northern Royal Albatross Toroa, Diomedea sanfordi, Flying over the Ocean, Dunedin, Otago Peninsula, South Island, New Zealand

Considering that there are just 23 species of Albatross in the world, having 17 species of Albatross in New Zealand is a good percentage of the varieties although some are migrants or vagrants and breed elsewhere in the world.

As Albatrosses spend most of their life out at sea you are unlikely to just happen across these birds on the mainland.. Some Albatross species can be seen at specific locations in New Zealand and surrounding islands and seas, and some are rare and/or in danger due to low numbers.

Probably the most commonly known Albatross of New Zealand are the Northern Royal Albatross, although that doesn't necessarily mean they are the highest in numbers.

There is an Albatross Centre on the Dunedin Otago Peninsula where visitors can see Northern Royal Albatross at the only mainland Albatross nesting colony in the world. This is the best place to see and appreciate New Zealands Albatross as they fly low overhead and glide through the air over the sea around the peninsula.

New Zealand Albatross Bird Species List

Scroll for full list of Albatross in New Zealand. List is alphabetical and in no particular order whether common or rare bird species.

Diomedeidae is the family name of all the Albatross listed below.

Antipodean Albatross - Diomedea antipodensis

Conservation: Species is in a nationally critical conservation status. Other Common Names: Wandering Albatross, Toroa, Gibson's Albatrosss.

Atlantic Yellow-nosed Mollymawk - Thalassarche chlororhynchos

Conservation: Species is vagrant. Other Common Names: Yellow-nosed Mollymawk, Western Yellow-nosed Mollymawk, Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, Western Yellow-nosed Albatross, Yellow-nosed Albatross.

Black-browed Mollymawk - Thalassarche melanophris

Conservation: Species is a coloniser. Other Common Names: Black-browed Albatross.

Black-footed Albatross - Phoebastria nigripes

Conservation: Species is vagrant. Other Common Names: Ka'upu (Hawaiian).

Buller's Mollymawk - Thalassarche bulleri

Conservation: Species is uncommon. Other Common Names: Buller's Albatross, Toroa, Pacific Mollymawk, Pacific Albatross.

Campbell Black-browed Mollymawk - Thalassarche impavida

Conservation: Species is in a nationally vulnerable conservation status. Other Common Names: Campbell Black-browed Albatross, Campbell Island Mollymawk, Campbell Island Albatross, Toroa, Black-browed Mollymawk, Black-browed Albatross, Campbell Mollymawk, Campbell Albatross.

Chatham Island Mollymawk - Thalassarche eremita

Conservation: Species is uncommon. Other Common Names: Chatham Island Albatross, Toroa, Chatham Mollymawk, Chatham Albatross.

Grey-headed Mollymawk - Thalassarche chrysostoma

Conservation: Species is in a nationally vulnerable conservation status. Other Common Names: Grey-headed Albatross.

Indian Ocean Yellow-nosed Mollymawk - Thalassarche carteri

Conservation: Species is a Coloniser. Other Common Names: Indian Ocean Yellow-nosed Albatross, Toroa, Eastern Yellow-nosed Mollymawk, Carter's Mollymawk, Yellow-nosed Albatross.

Laysan Albatross - Phoebastria immutabilis

Conservation: Species is vagrant.

Light-mantled Sooty Albatross - Phoebetria palpebrata

Conservation: Species is in decline. Other Common Names: Light-mantled Albatross, Toroa, Toroa pango, Toroa-a-ruru, Koputu.

Northern Royal Albatross - Diomedea sanfordi

Conservation: Species is uncommon naturally. Other Common Names: Toroa, Royal Albatross.

Northern Royal Albatross (Diomedea sanfordi), South Island, NZ

Northern Royal Albatross Diomedea sanfordi, South Island, New Zealand

Salvin's Mollymawk - Thalassarche salvini

Conservation: Species is in a nationally critical conservation status. Other Common Names: Salvin's Albatross, Toroa, Bounty Island Mollymawk, Grey-backed Mollymawk.

Sooty Albatross - Phoebetria fusca

Conservation: Species is a vagrant. There appears to be only 4 recorded sightings at the time of writing.

Southern Royal Albatross - Diomedea epomophora

Conservation: Species is uncommon naturally. Other Common Names: Toroa.

Wandering Albatross - Diomedea exulans

Conservation: Wandering Albatross is a migrant species. Other Common Names: Snowy Albatross, Toroa.

White-capped Mollymawk - Thalassarche cauta

Conservation: Species is in decline. Other Common Names: White-capped Albatross, Toroa, Shy Mollymawk, Shy Albatross.

White-capped Mollymawk (Thalassarche cauta), Albatross, Otago Peninsula, Dunedin, New Zealand

White-capped Mollymawk Albatross - Thalassarche cauta, Otago Peninsula, South Island, New Zealand

Extinct New Zealand Albatross

Alastair's albatross - aldiomedes angustirostris.

Conservation: Extinct. Sadly this species no longer exists.

You may also like...

List of native New Zealand birds and a wildlife of New Zealand

New Zealand Albatross Conservation and Law

At the time of writing… any New Zealand Albatross found injured or in distress should be reported directly to the Department of Conservation in the first instance. The Department will make arrangements for any bird in New Zealand to receive appropriate treatment. Data will also be recorded that will assist in future conservation planning such as the type of injury and place where the bird was found. Should a number of birds be getting injuries or be found dead in a particular location it may be related to a specific cause such as dog attacks.

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Wandering Albatross

Table of Contents

Scientific Classification

Table of content.

wandering albatross nz

Physical Description

Size : They measure at around 3 ft 6 in to 4 ft 5 in (1.07-1.35 m).

Weight : Adult wandering albatrosses typically weigh between 13 and 28 lbs (5.9-12.7 kg).

Color : The plumage for juveniles is chocolate brown which becomes whiter with age. The wings in adults are white with black around the tips while the female’s wings have more black on them. The bill and feet are pink.

Sexual Dimorphism : Males are a little bit larger than females.

Wingspan : They have the largest wingspan among birds , measuring at around 8 ft 3 in to 11 ft 6 in (2.51-3.5 m).

The two recognized subspecies of the wandering albatross are D. e. exulans (nominate subspecies) and the D. e. gibsoni (also known as Gibson’s albatross).

Distribution

The breeding range for the wandering albatross includes South Georgia Island, Crozet Islands, Prince Edward Islands, Kerguelen Islands, and Macquarie Islands. It also feeds around the Kaikoura Peninsula on New Zealand’s South Island east coast.

They inhabit subantarctic islands with tussock grass, sedges, shrubs, mosses and peat soils. They nest on ridges, plateaus, valleys, and plains.

wandering albatross nz

Wandering Albatross Pictures

wandering albatross nz

Wandering Albatross Images

  • These birds spend most of their lives in the air, traveling long distances.
  • They live in small groups during their forages in the sea.
  • They become rather social during the breeding season.
  • They are territorial towards members of the same sex during the breeding season and defend their nesting area with vocalizations.

Wandering albatrosses eat fish, squids, and crustaceans.

Mating & Reproduction

These birds mate for life and mate every other year. Males reach the breeding grounds before females and locate the same nesting sites they had used the previous season, although they may also choose to build new ones. Females arrive after males. The breeding season usually occurs between December and March. The female lays one egg per breeding season which is then incubated for 74-85 days. Both parents take part in incubation.

The hatchling stays in its parents’ care for up to 9 months of age, after which they achieve independence. They reach sexual maturity by the time they are 9 years old.

wandering albatross nz

Wandering Albatross Chick

wandering albatross nz

Wandering Albatross Size

Wandering albatrosses can live for up to 50 years.

Sounds & Communication

These birds communicate by croaking, bill-clapping, bill-touching, trumpeting, and pointing towards the sky with their bills.

Adaptations

  • The large wings of the wandering albatross help them fly for vast distances over several hours without flapping. For every meter of drop in altitude, they can travel 22 meters in distance.
  • The salt gland at the nasal passage helps them desalinate their bodies of the excess salt they come in contact with because of their oceanic lifestyle.
  • They can dive up to a meter into the ocean to catch their prey. They, however, prefer to catch the fish from the surface of the ocean.

wandering albatross nz

The Wandering Albatross

wandering albatross nz

Wandering Albatross Flying

Adult wandering albatrosses have no predators. Eggs, hatchlings, and juveniles, on the other hand, are preyed upon by sheathbills and skuas. In addition to these two, several introduced animals like goats, pigs, rats, mice, and cats also eat the chicks and eggs.

IUCN Conservation Status

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the wandering albatross under their ‘Vulnerable’ category.

Interesting Facts

  • The wandering albatross is the biggest bird in its genera and one the largest in the world.
  • One individual lived to be 60 years old in New Zealand. She was named ‘Grandma.’
  • Another banded individual was recorded to have traveled 3,730 miles in just 12 days.

wandering albatross nz

Wandering Albatross Wingspan

wandering albatross nz

Wandering Albatross Bird

  • http://www.coolantarctica.com/Antarctica%20fact%20file/wildlife/wandering-albatross.php https://oceanwide-expeditions.com/to-do/wildlife/wandering-albatross https://beautyofbirds.com/wandering-albatrosses/ http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Diomedea_exulans/#ff4ee5a1ac2a7a07a049350b7c9b6fbc https://www.britannica.com/animal/albatross#ref243427 http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22698305/0

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WANDERING ALBATROSS

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The Clock is Ticking for Rare New Zealand Albatross

Extinction loomed for the endangered antipodes island wandering albatross, but luckily conservationists have taken action..

The Endangered Antipodes Island Wandering Albatross will be functionally extinct (meaning that mating pair numbers will be so low there is no chance of their species survival) in the next 20 years if the population continues to decline. This rare bird breeds almost exclusively on the remote, subantarctic Antipodes Island in New Zealand, and in the last 13 years the population has experienced massive declines due to high mortality of females and reduced breeding success. If the current rate of decline continues, fewer than 500 pairs will remain within 20 years, but thanks to recent conservation efforts there is hope for these rare birds.

island-conservation-preventing-extinctions-invasive-species-Antipodes-Wandering-Albatross-adult

Adult Antipodes Wandering Albatross Credit: Jason Zito/Island Conservation

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage , who just recently visited Antipodes Island said:

In 1994-96, there were 5,180 pairs breeding each year on Antipodes Island. By 2015-17, there were only an estimated 2,900 pairs breeding there each year. More research is underway to better understand the situation. If nothing changes, at their current rate of decline, their future is very grim.

The decline in numbers coincides with an alteration in normal foraging behavior. Females have been traveling farther than they previously did—as  far east as Chile. This is leading to more females dying, resulting in a skewed sex ratio in the population with many males unable to find a partner. Eugenie Sage commented:

The main known human cause of adult mortality is bycatch in fisheries. Wandering Albatross are known to be highly susceptible to becoming bycatch, particularly in pelagic longline fisheries such as those targeting tuna. Reduced food, squid, and fish, and alteration in the birds’ foraging locations due to changing ocean temperatures and wind speed may be the cause of reduced breeding success in recent years.

New Zealand is trying to resolve this problem. They are actively working with international organizations such as the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) and Regional Fisheries Management Organizations to emphasize the concern for Antipodes Island Wandering Albatross when they leave New Zealand water. The goal is to ensure that fisheries bycatch is being regulated even on the high seas. In New Zealand waters, a National Plan of Action has been established that requires vessels to use bird scaring lines and daytime line-setting to minimize chances of accidentally hooking and drowning seabirds. Sage said:

The rapid collapse of the Antipodes Island wandering albatross population means we need urgent international action to prevent this magnificent species sliding into extinction. Gaining a better understanding of the birds’ diet will help us identify how fishing may be influencing the availability of prey, and could potentially allow for fisheries management to improve the availability of prey species for the Antipodes Island wandering albatross.

island-conservation-preventing-extinctions-invasive-species-Antipodes-Wandering-Albatross-adult-with-chick

Adult Antipodes Wandering Albatross with its chick. Credit: Jason Zito/Island Conservation

Antipodes Island was once overrun by invasive mice that put all native species, including the Wandering Albatross, at risk of extinction. To ensure the safety of this important bird breeding site, the New Zealand Department of Conservation , WWF-New Zealand , The Morgan Foundation , Heritage Expeditions , the New Zealand public, and Island Conservation partnered up to create the Million Dollar Mouse project . The goal was to remove all invasive mice from Antipodes Island to create a safer, healthier ecosystem that would give the native birds a better chance at surviving. The Million Dollar Mouse initiative was declared a success in early 2018 and the island species have been given a a chance to thrive. This great effort by conservationists ensures an invasive free habitat for the Antipodes Island Wandering Albatross and is a giant step towards saving these birds from extinction.

Featured photo: Antipodean Wandering Albatross chick in the mist. Credit: Sarah Forder/Island Conservation Source: NZ Herald

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Wandering albatross happy to sit and watch

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A wanderer of the oceans just sits and watches as DoC staff flap their arms to encourage him aloft, writes ANNE BESTON. Sometimes a bird needs a little rest and recreation before a few hard years at sea. This young, probably male, wandering albatross can spend up to six years at sea, flying 8000km in a little over a fortnight. But, yesterday, he just wanted to sit and catch the view, together with a few hundred gannets at the famous Muriwai gannet colony, one of the country's best-known bird sanctuaries. The albatross, one of a species revered by sailors for centuries, hitched a ride north to Auckland on a container ship from Nelson, and seemed reluctant to leave the place, despite his species' reputation as a nomad. The bird's size, and in particular that of his beak, discouraged the crew from getting too close and the Department of Conservation was called in when the boat docked at Onehunga. DoC staff took the stowaway to Pam Howlett's Bird Rescue centre in Pakuranga where a check-up by a veterinarian found it was probably suffering from exhaustion. After five days of fish meals - with vitamin supplements - it was cleared for takeoff. DoC staff took the bird to the gannet colony on Auckland's west coast. Evicted gently from its plastic cage, the huge bird stepped awkwardly before the gathered media and ... sat down. For the next two hours, in a biting south-easterly and drizzling rain, the giant bird stubbornly ignored all attempts to coax it into the air. It sat stoically as DoC staff waved and flapped their arms. "We'd been warned it might take a while," said DoC officer Paul Keeling. Freezing and damp, the media drifted away and late last night the albatross was still gazing out to sea from its craggy perch. Along with the Royal albatross, the wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans) is the largest of the 13 albatross species with a wingspan of up to 4m. Even before 18th century poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote his The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, about a sailor doomed to wander for killing an albatross, sailors believed that when their captains died their souls took the form of an albatross to wander the oceans forever. The wandering albatross is not normally found this far north. Mrs Howlett said she could remember only two or three cases in the 30 years she has been taking in injured birds. The wanderer breeds mostly in the sub-Antarctic Campbell and Auckland Islands, 700km south of New Zealand. Scientists believe the albatross mates for life and mated pairs have been known to arrive back from years at sea within two days of each other. Last night, the local bird ranger kept checking on the albatross to see if it had left. Since they often feed at night there was a good chance it would be gone this morning. Mr Keeling said: "If he's still there at first light we'll have to consider our options. "It's not unknown to pick them up and toss them over the edge but we'll have to see about that."

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(Snowy) Wandering Albatross?

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Post by erikforsyth » Thu Nov 23, 2023 8:42 am

Re: (Snowy) Wandering Albatross?

Post by FraserGurney » Fri Nov 24, 2023 7:39 am

Post by erikforsyth » Sat Nov 25, 2023 4:20 am

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  3. Wandering Albatross feeding 06 with Giant Petrel DNN Kaikoura 18 Feb 2020

  4. Antipodes Wandering Albatross, 14 Dec. 2022, off Chatham Islands

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  6. Royal Albatross (NZ)

COMMENTS

  1. Wandering albatross

    Wandering albatrosses are among the largest birds in the New Zealand marine area, surpassed only slightly by the southern royal albatross for size. Together, these are the largest of the great albatrosses, of which four species occur in New Zealand waters. The wandering albatross is most similar to the slightly smaller and darker Antipodean ...

  2. Antipodean and Gibson's wandering albatross albatross : New Zealand sea

    The Antipodean and Gibson's wandering albatross are one of the largest albatrosses with a wingspan of 3 metres. Gibson's wandering albatross looks very similar to Antipodean wandering albatross but usually have lighter plumage. ... New Zealand status: Endemic Conservation status: Threatened-Nationally Critical Primary Threats: Bycatch, marine ...

  3. Wandering Albatross : Birding NZ

    Gibson's Albatross (named after Dough Gibson, founder of the NSWASG) is about 40% smaller than the Snowy. (Lindsay Smith, SOSSA) Peter Milburn photographed this bird 2004 at Wollongong. The bird was banded and its. identification confirmed with biometrics as part of SOSSA's programme. Subantarctic islands of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans.

  4. The global hunt for the original wandering albatross

    The wandering albatross is one of the world's greatest ocean wanderers, with individuals circumnavigating the Southern Ocean and travelling 120,000 km in a year. These albatrosses have been among the most high-profile of seabirds ever since reports of their existence in southern oceans reached Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries.

  5. Research and recovery of Antipodean wandering albatross

    Antipodean wandering albatross feed by scavenging squid and fish from the surface of the waves or plunging into the water in shallow dives. They are frequently attracted to the fishing boats due to the easy meal they provide. ... New Zealand is also actively participating in Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) and ...

  6. Albatross: New Zealand native sea and shore birds

    Albatross. Albatrosses are the world's largest flying seabirds. They spend at least 85% of their lives at sea returning to land (usually remote islands) to breed and raise their young. Naturally low productivity, combined with changes in climate and habitat conditions and certain fishing practices, make these seabirds highly vulnerable.

  7. Wandering Albatross (New Zealand)

    Provisional. Escapee: Exotic species known or suspected to be escaped or released, including those that have bred but don't yet fulfill the criteria for Provisional. Escapee exotics do not count in official eBird totals. Learn about Wandering Albatross (New Zealand): explore photos, sounds, and observations collected by birders around the world.

  8. Wandering Albatross (Snowy Albatross)

    Learn about Wandering Albatross (Snowy Albatross): explore photos, sounds, and observations collected by birders around the world.

  9. Wandering Albatross

    The snowy albatross boasts a wingspan that can exceed 3.5 meters (11 feet), with an average span of around 3.1 meters (10 feet 2 inches). Body length ranges from 107 to 135 cm (3 feet 6 inches to 4 feet 5 inches), with females being slightly smaller than males. Adults typically weigh between 5.9 to 12.7 kg (13 to 28 lb).

  10. New Zealand Birds

    The first group contains the largest of all flying birds, Toroa, the wandering and royal albatrosses, which are of about equal size and easily recognised by their white backs and tails. It is to this group for which the term "albatross", as generally understood, is reserved. The word albatross is supposedly an English corruption of the ...

  11. Great Albatross, Sea Wandering Albatross

    The wandering albatross and the southern royal albatross are the largest albatrosses and among the largest of flying birds. Learn about Great Albatross. ... 14kg. Young southern royals leave New Zealand waters and fly circumpolar through the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans, before returning to New Zealand waters to breed as adults when 6-12 ...

  12. Albatrosses are threatened with extinction

    The wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans) is the world's largest flying bird, with a wingspan reaching an incredible 3.5 metres.These birds are oceanic nomads: they spend most of their 60 years ...

  13. New Zealand Albatross / Toroa / Diomedeidae

    Conservation: Wandering Albatross is a migrant species. Other Common Names: Snowy Albatross, Toroa. White-capped Mollymawk - Thalassarche cauta ... At the time of writing… any New Zealand Albatross found injured or in distress should be reported directly to the Department of Conservation in the first instance. The Department will make ...

  14. Wandering Albatross Bird Facts

    The average span for a wandering albatross is just over 3 meters (10 feet), with a range between 2.51 and 3.5 meters (8 feet 3 inches-11 feet 6 inches. The largest verified wingspan measurement is 3.7 meters or 12 feet 2 inches. The largest reported wingspan, although unverified, is 5.3 meters (17 feet 5 inches).

  15. Wandering Albatross Facts, Lifespan, Predators, Pictures

    Interesting Facts. The wandering albatross is the biggest bird in its genera and one the largest in the world. One individual lived to be 60 years old in New Zealand. She was named 'Grandma.'. Another banded individual was recorded to have traveled 3,730 miles in just 12 days. Wandering Albatross Wingspan.

  16. Wandering Albatross

    The wandering albatross is about 45 inches long, and has the largest wingspan of any bird at around 10 feet on average. Around the Kaikoura Peninsula, South Island of New Zealand (where the birds below were photographed and filmed), these birds can be seen feeding year round.

  17. The Clock is Ticking for Rare New Zealand Albatross

    Antipodes Island was once overrun by invasive mice that put all native species, including the Wandering Albatross, at risk of extinction. To ensure the safety of this important bird breeding site, the New Zealand Department of Conservation, WWF-New Zealand, The Morgan Foundation, Heritage Expeditions, the New Zealand public, and Island Conservation partnered up to create the Million Dollar ...

  18. Antipodean and Gibson's wandering albatross albatross : New Zealand sea

    The Antipodean and Gibson's wandering albatross are one of the largest albatrosses with a wingspan of 3 metres. Gibson's wandering albatross looks very similar to Antipodean wandering albatross but usually have lighter plumage. ... New Zealand status: Endemic Conservation status: Threatened-Nationally Critical Primary Threats: Bycatch, marine ...

  19. Northern royal albatross: New Zealand sea and shore birds

    Along with the wandering albatross, northern royal albatross are one of the largest seabirds in the world. ... Royal albatross range throughout the Southern Ocean and are most commonly seen in New Zealand coastal waters during winter. Birds have been banded on Campbell Island since the early 1940s. Returned bands show young birds and ...

  20. Northern royal albatross: New Zealand sea and shore birds

    Along with the wandering albatross, northern royal albatross are one of the largest seabirds in the world. ... Royal albatross range throughout the Southern Ocean and are most commonly seen in New Zealand coastal waters during winter. Birds have been banded on Campbell Island since the early 1940s. Returned bands show young birds and ...

  21. Wandering albatross happy to sit and watch

    The wandering albatross is not normally found this far north. Mrs Howlett said she could remember only two or three cases in the 30 years she has been taking in injured birds.

  22. (Snowy) Wandering Albatross?

    (Snowy) Wandering Albatross? Bird sighting information. Use this forum to report bird sightings (especially rare and unusual birds), census and field count results, and trip reports. ... Messages posted to this forum will also be sent as a plain text email to the BIRDING-NZ newsgroup. Previous topic Next topic. 3 posts • Page 1 of 1 ...