The Wandering albatross, belonging to genus Diomedeidae, is one of the largest birds in the world. It is the last albatross species to be described. For quite a long time, this species was believed to be the same species as the Antipodean albatross and the Tristan albatross. It is one of the two biggest members belonging to the genus Diomedea. It has the largest wingspan of any bird. This species was first described by Carl Linnaeus, in 1758, as Diomedea exulans based on a Cape of Good Hope specimen.
Species: D. exulans
The scientific name for Wandering albatross is Diomedea exulans.
Diomedea exulans has two recognized subspecies – Diomedea exulans exulans and
Diomedea exulans gibsoni, which is sometimes referred to as a different species Diomedea gibsoni, and called by the common name Gibson’s albatross.
This bird has the longest wingspan of any known living bird – ranging between 2.50 to 3.50 meters. However, even longer unverified wingspan has also been heard of – standing at 4.22 meters.
The length of their body is somewhere between 107 to 130 centimetres. There is no sexual dimorphism, but females are a bit smaller compared to males. Depending on age, adult specimens can weigh between 5.9 to 12.8 kilograms. The colour of their plumage changes with age. Juvenile birds tend to be chocolate brown in colour and individuals turn white as they grow old. The upper part of its wings are between black to grey, and the underpart is white. They have a large, hooked bill which is pink in colour. The color of their feet is also the same as their bill.
They prefer to inhabit places near the open ocean where food is abundant. They nest in plains, valleys, plains and plateaus. They breed in subantarctic islands characterized by mosses, shrubs, sedges, tussock grass and peat soils.
The Wandering albatrosses mostly found in the Southern Hemisphere. Occasional sightings have also been noted in little north of the Equator. They breed in several islands just north over the Antarctic circle, such as South Georgia Island, Crozet and Macquarie Island, Kerguelen Islands, as well as in Marion Islands.
They travel in small groups as they forage over the ocean. Feeding frenzies can often be seen near fishing boats. Their basic foraging method is surface seizing, but they also can plunge and go as deep as one meter in order to search for food. Individuals are known to travel thousands of kilometers from their breeding territory. Thanks to its large wingspan, they can glide in the air without flapping its wings. Courtship displays include vocalizations like whistles, screams, grunts and bill clapping. They have a salt gland located above its nasal passage. This helps in desalinating their bodies. It helps to expel saline solution from their nose.
The Wandering albatrosses nest in every other year. Chicks from the previous brood co-exist in colonies with breeding pairs. If a pair is unsuccessful one year, it will try to mate again in the same year or breed in the following year. Males are the first to arrive at breeding locations. They are known to locate and reuse (and refurbish) old nests. And, if the old one is not to be found, they make a new one.
Females arrive at the breeding grounds much later. This species is monogamous; but if their partner is not readily available, female mate with a new male. Nests are made in depressions lined with shrubs, twigs, and grass. Females lay a single egg. Both male and female take part in incubation that goes on for around 78 days. Chicks are brooded for 4 – 6 weeks till they are capable enough to live alone in the nest; and at least 9 to 10 months are needed till the chicks become dependent on their own. During this time, male and female alternatively forage at the ocean. Chicks become totally independent when they are around a year old. They reach sexual maturity at the age of 6.
This sea-bird primarily feed on fish, crustaceans, squids and other cephalopods.
The Wandering albatrosses’ lifespan is around 50 years.
They emit various types of calls during mating season, or when defending its territory, or when fighting over food.
In the past, humans used to hunt this species for food. At present, adults do not have any natural predators, but some individuals often get caught in big-scale fishing operations. Eggs and chicks are vulnerable to large carnivorous seabirds, mice, goats, rats, cats, pigs etc. Their biggest threat is longline fishing operations, but plastic and oil pollution are also presently adding to that as well.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has kept Diomedea exulans in the ‘Vulnerable’ category. The adult mortality rate stands at 5 – 8 percent each year. Their occurrence range is approximately 64700000 km2, whereas their breeding range is just 1900 km2.
Few individuals are known to go round the Southern Ocean region three times in a year, covering around 120000 kilometres.
In the past, sailors used to catch this bird because of its long wing bones. They used to make tobacco pipe stems with the bones.
In New Zealand, this bird used to be a great food source for the Maori. They also used to make different items like flutes, tattooing chisel blades, needles etc,
The Wandering albatross can easily be distinguished from closely related species the Royal albatross by its pink bill, white eyelids as well as the lack of black color on the maxilla.
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