Wandering Albatross


The wandering albatross, also called the great wandering albatross is a large bird living in many places in the Southern Hemisphere. There are a few different sub-species of this bird, with the differences mostly being just size and coloring. The only colors any of the sub-species have are white, gray, black, and brown. This is except for the pale pink beak that all sub-species have.

Most sub-species have a completely white body with grayish-black on the top of their wings and white on the bottom. Some will have brown splotches on their body, while in one sub-species the males will be completely white, including their wings and tail! In some, the male and female look the same, in others they have slightly different markings. The juveniles are almost completely brown, and they get whiter the older they get.

Albatrosses, this species in particular, are extremely good gliders. They have very long wings, and they can soar in the air for several hours at a time without ever flapping their wings! They were made to fly so efficiently that they use up less energy gliding than they would just sitting on the ground!


Wandering albatrosses have the largest wingspan of any bird in the world – yes – even larger than an ostrich’s! Most sources say their wingspan can be up to 11.5 feet (3.5 m), but there are some reports of even larger ones. Some even say there have been wandering albatrosses with wingspans of up to 17.5 feet (5.3 m), but these are not verified.

From beak tip to tail tip, these birds range from 3.6 to 4.4 feet (1.1-1.35 m) long. On average, they weigh 18 pounds (8.16 kg), ranging between 13 and 28 pounds (5.9-12.7 kg). This average weight is about as much as two housecats, or one dachshund. The males are usually about 20% heavier than the females.

Diet and hunting

Albatrosses are sea birds, and like most of these birds, their favorite food is fish. In addition to fish, they will also eat squid and crustaceans, but these aren’t usually as easy to catch. Their primary way of hunting is to fly low over the water and snatch fish up right at the surface while they remain in flight. They also have the ability to dive about 3 feet (1 m) into the water to catch slightly deeper fish.

Wandering albatrosses have also learned to benefit from humans. They will follow fishing boats and wait for discarded fish pieces or unwanted fish to be thrown overboard as an easy meal.

Most birds that eat fish have a hooked beak, and this one is not an exception, with its sharp point allowing it to hold on to slippery, struggling fish.

Habitat and range

Wandering albatrosses are found throughout the Southern Hemisphere, and there are occasional sightings of them north of the equator as well. They live on the shores of Africa, Australia, and South America, as well as the Pacific and Indian Ocean islands. They do not inhabit Antarctica, but the breeding grounds are just north of the Antarctic Circle.

Most shorelines have suitable habitat for this bird, though they spend the majority of their year over the open ocean. They are able to do this because of their extremely efficient method of gliding.  One wandering albatross was recorded to have flown all the way around the earth in just 46 days!

During the mating season, the only time this bird stays on land for much time, they mostly inhabit plains and grassy areas near the ocean.

Status and threats

The wandering albatross is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Redlist. The adults don’t have many predators, but the eggs and chicks are threatened by other birds as well as domesticated or introduced cats, pigs, goats, rats, and mice.

One of the biggest threats caused by humans that this bird faces has to do with fishing. Although they sometimes benefit from fishing boats, they will sometimes get tangled in fishing nets or wires while trying to get to the fish. This can cause the birds to drown.


When making their nests, these albatrosses will line depressions with grass, sticks, and dirt. This usually occurs around December, which is early summer in the southern hemisphere. After mating, the female will lay a single egg that takes about 78 days to hatch. The lone chick will be protected by its parents for four to six weeks after which they may both leave the nest to search for food. The chick is not independent until they are nine to ten months old, at which time they can fly.

Due to the long period of time it takes to raise a chick, wandering albatrosses only mate every other year. The young birds do not mate until they are at least 6 years old. They have been known to live up to 60 years in the wild.


Photo credits:

  • Wandering albatross – JJ Harrison
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