Bird Families

Albatross - photo, description, habitat, nutrition, reproduction


Do you think seawater is home and food for fish and underwater mammals? Here is an albatross - a seabird that is so strongly attached to the blue waters that it gets out on land only to continue its race.

White-backed albatross (Phoebastria albatrus).

It seems that man has explored all corners of our vast planet, and now observe and put some species in the Red Book. But it turns out that there are many more species of plants and animals on Earth that we know very little about.

Wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans) next to the small tube-nosed cape dove.

More recently, researchers have been able to study amazing creatures - albatrosses. Far from land you can find these creatures, for hours they accompany steamers, as if tied to them soar, and do not even flap their wings.

The wings of a wandering albatross are comparable to those of a small, single-seat aircraft.

Albatrosses, petrels and ocean-dwellers are part of a special order - the tube-nosed ones. All these representatives have a characteristic feature - their nostrils are enclosed in horny tubes. Their plumage color is light, and the back and tips of the wings are dark. Young albatrosses will have adult "clothing" in the fourth year of life.

Light-mantled clouded albatross (Phoebetria palpebrata) on the island. South Georgia.

Albatrosses nest in the southern hemisphere, outside the nesting period they can be found in all seas except the Arctic Ocean.

Albatrosses have earned their popularity and quite a lot of fame for their passion for travel. They are connected with land only by the period of nesting and reproduction. The rest of the time they hover over the ocean surface - they sleep, feed on the water and even drink sea water.

Galapagos albatrosses (Phoebastria irrorata) are the only species to breed at the equator.

Albatross appearance

The squadron-nosed birds are densely built birds, many of them weigh up to twelve kilograms. Their body is covered with thick plumage, because they deal with water and they need reliable, warm and waterproof "clothes". Albatross' wings are long and very narrow, and some are very long.

The largest wandering albatross has a wing length of 3.7 meters. This is tantamount to the wings of a small, single-seat aircraft. The tail is varied in shape and not so large. The beak is small and ends in a curved hook. In the mouth they have horn protrusions that help to keep slippery prey - fish. Their legs are of moderate length, but in some species they are short. The floating membrane connecting the front three fingers is well developed. It is almost impossible to distinguish males and females by their appearance. The wings of albatrosses are designed in such a way that they allow the birds to use the currents of air rising from the surface of the ocean, so they do not fly, but soar.

The black-browed albatross (Thalassarche melanophris) hovers over the ocean waves.

Albatrosses are eternal wanderers who do not have a permanent habitat, covering the entire planet with their flights.

Breeding albatrosses and petrels

Despite such "homelessness" albatrosses nest in a strictly defined place, where they themselves were born. These are the Hawaiian, Japanese Galapogos and Falkland Islands.

Studies have shown that they are located no further than twenty-two meters from the place where they were born. For birds that have not seen land for years, this is phenomenal topographic memory and astounding accuracy.

Tristan albatross (Diomedea dabbenena) takes off from the surface of the water.

Albatrosses make nests on the ground and from the ground or from a pile of grass with a hole in the middle.

Galapagos albatrosses do not build nests at all; they sometimes even roll eggs in search of a better place.

The forage areas of the land are divided by birds of different sex during nesting. The males of the Tristan albatross fly away in search of food only to the west, the female only to the east.

Black-footed albatross (Phoebastria nigripes).

The nesting period of albatrosses is very long - from 140 in small species to 280 days in a wandering albatross. During this time, the chick sheds twice and gains a lot of weight. Finally, there comes a time when the parents fly away from the nest forever, and the chick remains perfect alone. He sits for several days or weeks in the nest, then goes to the shore on his own, where he will develop the flaps of his wings. Chicks spend all this time in the water and are very vulnerable to sharks.

The albatross is studying the phaeton that is located nearby.

Albatross feeding

Different types of albatrosses forage in different places - some on land, others far in the ocean

Colony of black-browed albatrosses in the Falkland Islands. In the foreground, a couple is engaged in marriage courtship.

And the wandering albatross categorically avoids those places where the depth is less than 1000 meters. But for everyone it remains a mystery - how the bird determines the depth if it gets food only at the surface of the water.

Black-footed albatrosses on tiptoes perform a mating dance.

Albatrosses feed on crustaceans, squid, fish, but can also feed on carrion. They hunt down their prey from the air and grab with their beak right on the fly from the surface of the ocean. Albatrosses can dive to a depth of twelve meters in search of food.

A wandering albatross sings a mating song in front of a female.

The flight speed of albatrosses is from fifty to eighty kilometers per hour. At such high speeds, they can fly around the clock, covering up to eight hundred kilometers per day.

A female black-browed albatross with a chick.

The researchers tagged the albatrosses and learned that they circled the globe in forty-six days.

The giant wandering albatross chick spent almost a year in the nest.

Albatrosses are monogamous birds that remain faithful to their partner throughout their lives. They are looking for a couple for a very long time. For the first few years, they fly to the nesting sites, talk, but do not find pairs. Over time, they hone their skills, acquire sign language, learn ritual.

Remains of an albatross with plastic debris that the bird swallowed during life.

During the mating ritual, they touch the feathers of their chosen one, learn to turn their heads beautifully, loudly cackle, learn to flap their outstretched wings wide, snap their beaks, and grab a partner's beak.

Dark-lined albatrosses (Phoebastria immutabilis) are forced to nest among the plastic debris that ends up even on remote uninhabited islands.

In complete calm, albatrosses have to make frequent flaps of their wings. During this period, they prefer not to rise into the air at all. They are considered a sign of trouble for sailors, if albatrosses appear, then - expect trouble - storms, storms. And the stronger the wind, the more tube-nosed birds you can see. Therefore, a whole group of tube-nosed birds is called petrels.

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Description, appearance of the albatross

This majestic seabird belongs to the order of the petrels... The International Union for Conservation of Nature divides the large albatross family into 4 genera with 22 species, but the number is still under debate.

Some species, for example, royal and wandering albatrosses, surpass all living birds in wingspan (over 3.4 m).

The plumage of adults is built on the contrast of a dark top / outer part of the wings and a white chest: some species can be almost brown, others - snow-white, like males of the royal albatross. In young animals, the final color of the feathers appears after a few years.

The powerful beak of the albatross ends in a hooked beak. Thanks to the long nostrils stretched along the length, the bird is acutely aware of smells (which is not typical for birds), which "lead" it to the stern.

There is no hind toe on each paw, but there are three front toes united by membranes. Strong legs allow all albatross to walk effortlessly on land.

In search of food, albatrosses are able to travel long distances with little effort, using oblique or dynamic soaring. Their wings are arranged in such a way that the bird can hang in the air for a long time, but does not master the long flapping flight. The albatross does an active flap of its wings only during takeoff, relying further on the strength and direction of the wind.

When it is calm, the birds sway on the water surface until the first gust of wind helps them. On the sea waves, they not only rest on the way, but also sleep.

It is interesting! The word "albatross" comes from the Arabic al-ġaţţās ("diver"), which in Portuguese began to sound like alcatraz, then migrated to English and Russian. Under the influence of the Latin albus ("white"), alcatraz later became albatross. Alcatraz is the name of an island in California where especially dangerous criminals were kept.

Wildlife habitat

Most albatross live in the southern hemisphere, spreading from Australia to Antarctica, as well as in South America and South Africa.

Exceptions include four species belonging to the genus Phoebastria. Three of them live in the North Pacific Ocean, from the Hawaiian Islands to Japan, California and Alaska. A fourth species, the Galapagos albatross, forages off the Pacific coast of South America and is seen in the Galapagos Islands.

The area of ​​distribution of albatrosses is directly related to their inability for active flights, which makes crossing the equatorial calm sector almost impossible. And only the Galapagos albatross learned to subjugate the air currents formed under the influence of the cold oceanic Humboldt current.

Bird watchers, using satellites to track the movements of albatrosses over the ocean, have found that birds do not participate in seasonal migrations. Albatrosses scatter to different natural areas after the breeding season is over.

Each species chooses its territory and route: for example, southern albatrosses usually go on circumpolar voyages around the world.

Extraction, food ration

Albatross species (and even intraspecific populations) differ not only in habitat, but also in gastronomic preferences, although their food supply is approximately the same. Only the proportion of a particular food source differs, which can be:

  • fish,
  • cephalopods,
  • crustaceans,
  • zooplankton,
  • carrion.

Some prefer to feast on squid, others catch krill or fish. For example, of the two "Hawaiian" species, one, the dark-backed albatross, focuses on squid, and the other, the black-footed albatross, on fish.

Ornithologists have found that certain species of albatross readily eat carrion... Thus, a wandering albatross specializes in squid that die during spawning, thrown away as fishing waste, and also rejected by other animals.

The importance of falling in the menu of other species (such as gray-headed or black-browed albatrosses) is not so great: smaller squids become their prey, and when they die, they usually quickly go to the bottom.

It is interesting! Not so long ago, the hypothesis that albatrosses pick up food on the surface of the sea was dispelled. They were equipped with echo sounders that measured the depth to which the birds sank. Biologists have found that several species (including the wandering albatross) dive to about 1 m, while others (including the clouded albatross) can descend to 5 m, increasing the depth to 12.5 meters if necessary.

It is known that albatrosses get food during the day, diving after the victim not only from the water, but also from the air.

Lifestyle, enemies of the albatross

The paradox is that all albatrosses, practically without natural enemies, are on the verge of extinction in our century and are taken under the protection of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The main reasons that brought the birds to this fatal line were:

  • their mass destruction for the sake of feathers for ladies' hats,
  • introduced animals, whose prey are eggs, chicks and adult birds,
  • environmental pollution,
  • death of albatrosses during longline fishing,
  • depletion of ocean fish stocks.

The tradition of hunting albatrosses originated among the ancient Polynesians and Indians: thanks to them, entire populations disappeared, as it was on the island. Easter. Later, European sailors also made their contribution, catching birds for table decoration or sports interest.

Murders peaked during the period of active settlement of Australia, ending with the advent of firearms laws... In the century before last, the white-backed albatross almost completely disappeared, which was mercilessly shot by feather hunters.

Important! In our time, albatrosses continue to die for other reasons, including swallowing hooks of fishing tackle. Bird watchers have calculated that this is at least 100 thousand birds per year.

The next threat comes from introduced animals (mice, rats and feral cats) ravaging nests and attacking adults. Albatrosses lack defense skills as they nest far from wild predators. Cattle brought to the island. Amsterdam, became an indirect reason for the decline of albatrosses, as he ate the grass where the birds hid their nests.

Another risk factor is plastic waste that settles in the stomachs undigested or blocks the digestive tract so that the bird does not feel hungry. If plastic gets to the chick, it stops growing normally, since it does not require food from the parents, experiencing a false feeling of satiety.

Many conservationists are now working on measures to reduce the amount of plastic waste that ends up in the ocean.

Life span

Albatrosses can be attributed to long-livers among birds... Bird watchers estimate their average lifespan at about half a century. Scientists base their observations on one specimen of the species Diomedea sanfordi (royal albatross). He was ringed when he was already in adulthood and was followed for another 51 years.

It is interesting! Biologists have suggested that the ringed albatross has lived in its natural environment for at least 61 years.

Reproduction of albatrosses

All species demonstrate philopatricity (loyalty to the place of birth), returning from wintering not just to their native places, but almost to their parental nests. For breeding, islands with rocky capes are chosen, where there are no predatory animals, but there is free access to the sea.

In albatross, late fertility is observed (at 5 years old), and they begin to mate even later: some species are not earlier than 10 years. The albatross is very serious about choosing a life partner, which it changes only if the couple does not have offspring.

For several years (!) The male has been looking after his bride, visiting the colony from year to year and caring for several females... Every year he narrows the circle of potential partners until he settles on a single one.

There is only one egg in the clutch of an albatross: if it is accidentally destroyed, the female lays the second. Nests are constructed from surrounding plants or soil / peat.

It is interesting! Phoebastria irrorata (Galapagos albatross) does not bother building a nest, preferring to roll the laid egg around the colony. Often he drives it away at a distance of 50 meters and cannot always ensure its safety.

Parents sit on the clutch in turn, without rising from the nest from 1 to 21 days.After the birth of the chicks, the parents warm them for another three weeks, feeding them with fish, squid, krill and light oil, which is produced in the bird's stomach.

Small albatrosses make their first flight in 140-170 days, and representatives of the genus Diomedea even later - after 280 days. Having risen on the wing, the chick no longer counts on parental support and can leave its nest.