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Albatross

   

The albatrosses are among the largest of flying birds, and the great albatrosses from the genus Diomedea have the largest wingspans of any extant birds. There are 21 species worldwide and 5 species which occur in Namibia:

Wandering Albatross - Diomedea exulans

The Wandering Albatross, Snowy Albatross, or White-winged Albatross Diomedea exulans, is a large seabird from the family Diomedeidae which has a circumpolar range in the Southern Ocean. It was the first species of albatross to be described, and was long considered the same species as the Tristan Albatross and the Antipodean Albatross.. The Wandering Albatross is the largest member of the genus Diomedea (the great albatrosses), one of the largest birds in the world, and is one of the best known and studied species of bird in the world.

Description: The Wandering Albatross has the largest wingspan of any living bird, with the wingspan between 2.51–3.50 m. The longest-winged examples verified have been about 3.7 m, but probably apocryphal reports of as much as 5.3 m are known. As a result of its wingspan, it is capable of remaining in the air without beating its wings for several hours at a time (travelling 22 m for every meter of drop). The length of the body is about 107–135 cm with females being slightly smaller than males, and they weigh typically from 6.25–12 kg. Immature birds have been recorded weighing as much as 16.1 kg during their first flights.

The plumage varies with age, with the juveniles starting chocolate brown. As they age they lose their color and get whiter. The adults have white bodies with black and white wings. Males have whiter wings than females with just the tips and trailing edges of the wings black. They also show a faint peach spot on the side of the head. The Wandering Albatross is the whitest of the Wandering Albatross species complex, the other species having a great deal more brown and black on the wings and body as breeding adults, very closely resembling immature Wandering Albatrosses. The large bill is pink, as are the feet. They also have a salt gland that is situated above the nasal passage and helps desalinate their bodies, due to the high amount of ocean water that they imbibe. It excretes a high saline solution from their nose.

They are a group bird and have a large range of displays from screams and whistles to grunts and bill clapping. When courting they will spread their wings, wave their heads, and rap their bills together, while braying. They can live for over 50 years.

Feeding: They are night feeders and feed on cephalopods, small fish, and crustaceans and on animal refuse that floats on the sea, eating to such excess at times that they are unable to fly and rest helplessly on the water. They are prone to following ships for refuse. They can also make shallow dives.

Reproduction: The Wandering Albatross breeds every other year. At breeding time they occupy loose colonies on isolated island groups in the Southern Ocean. They lay one egg that is white, with a few spots, and is about 10 cm long. They lay this egg between 10 December and 5 January, in their nests, which is a large bowl built of grassy vegetation and soil peat, that is 1 metre wide at the base and half a metre wide at the apex. Incubation takes about 11 weeks and both parents are involved. They are a monogamous species, usually for life. Adolescents return to the colony within 6 years; however they won't start breeding until 11 to 15 years. About 30% of fledglings survive.

Relationship with humans: Sailors used to capture the birds for their long wing bones, which they manufactured into tobacco-pipe stems. The early explorers of the great Southern Sea cheered themselves with the companionship of the albatross in their dreary solitudes; and the evil fate of him who shot with his cross-bow the "bird of good omen" is familiar to readers of Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The metaphor of "an albatross around his neck" also comes from the poem and indicates an unwanted burden causing anxiety or hindrance. In the days of sail the bird often accompanied ships for days, not merely following it, but wheeling in wide circles around it without ever being observed to land on the water. It continued its flight, apparently untired, in tempestuous as well as moderate weather.

The Maori of New Zealand used albatross as a food source. They caught them by baiting hooks. Because the wing bones of albatross were light but very strong Maori used these to create a number of different items including koauau (flutes), needles, tattooing chisel blades, and barbs for fishhooks.

Wandering Albatrosses have the largest wingspan of any living bird.

Grey-headed Albatross Thalassarche chrysostoma

The Grey-headed Albatross, Thalassarche chrysostoma, also known as the Grey-headed Mollymawk, is a large seabird from the albatross family. It has a circumpolar distribution, nesting on isolated islands in the Southern Ocean and feeding at high latitudes, further south than any of the other mollymawks. Its name derives from its ashy-grey head, throat and upper neck.

Taxonomy: Mollymawks are a type of albatross that belong to the Diomedeidae family and come from the Procellariiformes order, along with shearwaters, fulmars, storm-petrels, and diving-petrels. They share certain identifying features. First, they have nasal passages that attach to the upper bill called naricorns. Although the nostrils on the Albatross are on the sides of the bill. The bills of Procellariiformes are also unique in that they are split into between 7 and 9 horny plates. Finally, they produce a stomach oil made up of wax esters and triglycerides that is stored in the proventriculus. This is used against predators as well as an energy rich food source for chicks and for the adults during their long flights. They also have a salt gland that is situated above the nasal passage and helps desalinate their bodies, due to the high amount of ocean water that they imbibe. It excretes a concentrated brine from the nostrils.

Description: The Grey-headed Albatross averages 81 cm in length. It has a dark ashy-grey head, throat, and upper neck, and its upper wings, mantle, and tail, are almost black. It has a white rump, underparts, and a white crescent behind its eyes. Its bill is black, with bright yellow upper and lower ridges, that shade to pink-orange at the tip. Its underwings are white with a lot of black on the leading edge and less on the trailing edge. Juveniles have a black bill and head and a darker nape. Its eye crescent is indistinct and its underwing is almost completely dark.

Feeding: At sea the Grey-headed Albatross is highly pelagic, more so than other mollymawks, feeding in the open oceans rather than over the continental shelves. They feed predominantly on squid, taking also some fish, crustacea, carrion, cephalapods, and lampreys. Krill is less important as a food source for this species, reflecting their more pelagic feeding range. They are capable of diving as deep as 7 m to chase prey, but do not do so frequently.
Reproduction: A single egg is laid in a large nest, and incubated for 72 days. Chick will generally not return to the colony for 6–7 years after fledging, and will not breed for the first time until several years after that. If a pair of has managed to successfully raise a chick it will not breed in the following year, taking the year off. During this time spent away from the colony they can cover great distances, often circling the globe several times.

Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophris

The Black-browed Albatross or Black-browed Mollymawk, Thalassarche melanophrys, is a large seabird of the albatross family Diomedeidae, and it is the most widespread and common albatross.

Taxonomy: Mollymawks are a type of Albatross that belong to Diomedeidae family and come from the Procellariiformes order, along with Shearwaters, Fulmars, Storm-petrels, and Diving-petrels. They share certain identifying features. First, they have nasal passages that attach to the upper bill called naricorns. Although the nostrils on the Albatross are on the sides of the bill. The bills of Procellariiformes are also unique in that they are split into between 7 and 9 horny plates. Finally, they produce a stomach oil made up of wax esters and triglycerides that is stored in the proventriculus. This is used against predators as well as an energy rich food source for chicks and for the adults during their long flights. They also have a salt gland that is situated above the nasal passage and helps desalinate their bodies, due to the high amount of ocean water that they imbibe. It excretes a high saline solution from their nose.

The Black-browed Albatross was first described as Diomedea melanophris by Coenraad Jacob Temminck, in 1828, based on a specimen from Cape of Good Hope.

Description: The Black-browed Albatross is a medium-sized albatross, at 80–95 cm long with a 200–240 cm wingspan and an average weight of 2.9–4.7 kg. They can have a natural lifespan of over 70 years. It has a bright pink saddle and upperwings that contrast with the orange, rump, and underparts. The underwing is predominantly white with broad, irregular, black margins. It has a dark eyebrow and a yellow-orange bill with a darker reddish-orange tip. Juveniles have dark horn-colored bills with dark tips, and a grey head and collar. They also have dark underwings. The features that identify it from other mollymawks are the dark eyestripe which gives it its name, a broad black edging to the white underside of its wings, white head and orange bill, tipped darker orange. They are similar to Grey-headed Albatrosses but the latter have wholly dark bills and more complete dark head markings.

Range and habitat: This particular species of albatross prefers to forage over shelf and shelf-break areas. Falkland Island birds winter near the Patagonian Shelf, and birds from South Georgia forage in South African waters, using the Benguela Current, and the Chilean birds forage over the Patagonian Shelf, the Chilean Shelf, and even make it as far as New Zealand. It is the most likely albatross to be found in the North Atlantic due to a northerly migratory tendency.

Behavior: Colonies are very noisy as they bray to mark their territory, and also cackle harshly. They use their fanned tail in courting displays.
Feeding: The Black-browed Albatross feeds on fish, squid, crustaceans, carrion, and fishery discards. This species has been observed stealing food from other species.

Reproduction: They are an annual breeder laying one egg from between September 20 and November 1, although the Falklands, Crozet, and Kerguelen breeders lay about 3 weeks earlier. Incubation is done by both sexes and last 68 to 71 days. After hatching, the chicks take 120 to 130 days to fledge. Juveniles will return to the colony after 2 to 3 years but only to practice courtship rituals, as they will start breeding around the 10th year.

Shy Albatross Thalassarche cauta

The Shy Albatross or Shy Mollymawk, Thalassarche cauta, is a medium sized albatross that breeds off Australia and New Zealand's sub-Antarctic islands and ranges extensively across the Southern Ocean. Some authorities call this species the White-capped Albatross.

Taxonomy: Mollymawks are a type of Albatross that belong to Diomedeidae family and come from the Procellariiformes order, along with Shearwaters, Fulmars, Storm-petrels, and Diving-petrels. They share certain identifying features. First, they have nasal passages that attach to the upper bill called naricorns. Although the nostrils on the Albatross are on the sides of the bill. The bills of Procellariiformes are also unique in that they are split into between 7 and 9 horny plates. Finally, they produce a stomach oil made up of wax esters and triglycerides that is stored in the proventriculus. This is used against predators as well as an energy rich food source for chicks and for the adults during their long flights. They also have a salt gland that is situated above the nasal passage and helps desalinate their bodies, due to the high amount of ocean water that they imbibe. It excretes a high saline solution from their nose.

Shy albatross frequently follow fishing boats

Description: The Shy Albatross averages 90 to 99 centimeters in length, 220–256 cm wingspan, and 4.1 kg in weight. It is a black white and slate-grey bird with the characteristic black thumb mark at the base of the leading edge of the underwing. Adults have a white forehead and a crown, which is bordered on the bottom with a dark eyebrow and pale-grey face. Its mantle, tail, and upperwing are grey-black, and the rest is white. Its bill is grey-yellow with a prominent yellow culmen and yellow tip.

Feeding: The Shy Albatross feeds by a combination surface-seizing and some pursuit diving - it has been recorded diving as deep as 5 m Fish, cephalapods, crustacea, and tunicates are the subsistence for this species.
Reproduction: The Shy Albatross breeds on rocky islands and build a mounded nest of soil, grass, and roots. They lay one egg in the second half of September.

Range and habitat: The Shy Albatross is endemic to Australia and it breeds on three island colonies; Albatross Island, Pedra Branca, and the Mewstone. During the breeding season, adults concentrate around southern Australia and Tasmania. Juvenile birds are known to fly as far as South Africa; otherwise, non-breeding birds can be found throughout the southern oceans, but specifics are hard due to their similarity to the other species. It is sometimes found off the Pacific coast of the United States.

Yellow-nosed Albatross

The Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, Thalassarche chlororhynchos, is a large seabird in the albatross family. This small mollymawk was once considered conspecific with the Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross and known as the Yellow-nosed Albatross.

Description: The Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross averages 81 cm in length. It is a typical black and white mollymawk with a grey head and large eye patch, and its nape and hindneck are white. Its bill is black with a yellow culmenicorn and a pink tip. It has a blackish grey saddle, tail and upperwing, and its underparts are predominantly white. Its underwing and primaries show a narrow black margin. The juvenile is similar to the adult but with a white head and black bill. It can be differentiated from the Indian Yellow-nosed by its darker head. Relative to other mollymawks it can be distinguished by its smaller size (the wings being particularly narrow) and the thin black edging to the underwing, The Grey-headed Albatross has a similar grey head but more extensive and less well defined black markings around the edge of the underwing. Salvin's Albatross also has a grey head but has much broader wings, a pale bill and even narrower black borders to the underwing.

Feeding: This mollymawk feeds on squid, fish and crustacea.

Breeding: Like all albatrosses they are colonial, but unusually they will build their nests in scrub. Like all mollymawks they build pedestal nests of mud, peat, feathers, and vegetation to lay their one egg in. They do this in September or early October, and the chick fledges in late March to April. They breed annually.

   
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