Black-browed Albatross – Thalassarche melanophrys

Tags: Antarctic, bird, endangered, pelagic

Black-browed Albatross

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A black-browed albatross takes off from the water. Photo by J.J. Harrison.
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Like many animals that breed in the southern oceans surrounding Antarctica, the black-browed albatross often travels long distances, very long distances in order to find a meal. These albatrosses hunt by flying about 30 feet above the water, looking for fish or squid and swooping down to snatch their meal from the ocean surface. Sometimes, albatrosses only find something to eat after flying for hundreds of miles.

Why is the black-browed albatross so good at flying?

Albatrosses don’t mind flying extremely long distances. Their wide wingspan allows them to fly for hours on end without getting tired. In fact, they barely need to flap their wings. The black-browed albatross, a medium sized species of albatross, have bodies that measure 31-37 inches long, but have a wingspan of up to 94 inches. They typically weigh around 8 lbs., and can live to be 70 years old.

When does the black-browed albatross return to land?

In September, black-browed albatrosses gather on the grassy coastal cliffs of sun-Antarctic islands (the largest population breeds in the Falkland Islands) to build nests. Most albatrosses return to the same nesting ground each breeding season. Not only that, most albatrosses mate with the same partner each year.

Female black-browed albatrosses lay one egg per year. The parents take turns incubating the egg over the next two months. While one incubates, the other hunts. By late March the albatross chicks are ready to leave to the nest. Once albatrosses go to sea, they pretty much stay there. They only return to land for extended periods of time to breed. Otherwise, they glide effortlessly over the water in a constant search for food. They are known a pelagic creatures, meaning that they live in the open ocean.

Despite the fact that the black-browed albatross is the most common species of albatross in the world, they are an endangered species. How can they be endangered if there are so many of them? Well, the worldwide population has shrunk by 67% over the last 64 years. This abrupt and drastic reduction in population size endangers the black-browed albatross. The biggest threat to these birds is irresponsible commercial fishing, a practice that depletes the albatross’ food sources.

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A black-browed albatross in flight. Photo by J.J. Harrison.
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