The Black-browed albatross is a member of the albatross family Diomedeidae, the ‘tube-noses’, related to shearwaters, petrels, and fulmars. It is the most common and widespread albatross. The name for this large seabird comes from the dark black plumage above their eyes. Albatrosses are true marine birds, traversing the oceans in the southern hemisphere, returning to land only to breed. They are similar to the gray-headed albatross but the latter has a wholly dark bill and more complete dark markings on the head.
The Black-browed albatross is found anywhere in the south Atlantic and circumpolar in the southern hemisphere. It can travel further to the north with cold currents. During September and October, these birds breed on south Atlantic islands such as South Georgia and the Falkland Islands, South Sandwich, and the Cape Horn islands. These are marine, pelagic birds but they do commonly come inshore, typically moving toward the shore during violent weather. Breeding grounds are typically on steep slopes with cliff terraces, tussock grass, or level ground.
Black-browed albatrosses typically are solitary at sea, except when there is a large feeding opportunity. They forage both day and night, according to the prey species. They gather during the breeding season in nesting colonies that can number over 180,000 pairs. They are very mobile birds and can travel 500 to 3,000 km to forage. They are often seen hundreds of miles offshore following a ship, simply gliding behind it. This species only establishes territory during the breeding season. Breeding pairs will not permit another individual to come within 1.5 m of their nest. They are generally silent birds, but with breeding colonies will make rapid grunting noises. They will also make noises by beak-clapping. Breeding pairs communicate through courtship behaviors like allopreening and beak touching. Black-browed albatrosses, like all birds, perceive their environment through visual, auditory, and tactile, as well as chemical stimuli.
This species is monogamous, and Black-browed albatrosses often mate for life. A pair will often engage in rituals of feeding each other, using stereotyped postures while facing each other. Mutual preening is also performed, mainly to the head, and rubbing each other’s bills, as well as dances and calls. The breeding season begins in September or October and runs until April. The birds form colonies during the breeding season. They build their nests from mud, grass, seaweed, and guano, on a volcano-shaped mound. The single egg is incubated for 71 days. The chick is brooded during its first weeks and fledges at about 120 days old. Both parents feed and guard the downy young until it becomes independent when it fledges. These birds are reproductively mature around 7-9 years of age but mating activity usually begins at 11 years old.
The greatest threat to these birds seems to be an increase in by-catch due to long-line sea fishing practices in the southern oceans, particularly off the coasts of Argentina and Uruguay along the Patagonian shelf. Further threats include natural disasters (fires, floods, and volcanic activity), disruption of prey populations, ingesting plastic, pollution, habitat destruction, and disease.
According to IUCN’s Red List, the total size of the Black-browed albatross population is 700,000 pairs (i.e. 1,400,000 mature individuals), roughly equating to 2,100,000 individuals. This includes: Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) - 475,500-535,000 pairs; Chile - 55,000 pairs on Diego Ramirez; 58,000 pairs on Ildefonso; 15,500 pairs on Diego de Almagro; South Georgia (Georgias del Sur) - 56,000 pairs. There are an estimated 5,800 pairs in other populations (Antipodes, Campbell, Heard and MacDonald, Crozet, Kerguelen, Macquarie, Snares). Overall, currently, Black-browed albatrosses are classified as Near Threatened (NT) and their numbers today are decreasing.
Being piscivores, these birds may likely affect fish populations in their range.