Wandering Albatross

Wandering Albatross

Snowy albatross, White-winged albatross, Goonie

Diomedea exulans
Population size
Life Span
over 50 yrs
127 km/h
5.9-12.7 kg
107-135 cm
2.5-3.5 m

Described as "The bird which made the breeze to blow" the wingspan of a Wandering albatross is the longest of any bird. It lives up to its name when it takes fishing trips that last 10-20 days and can cover 10,000 km while using hardly more energy than when sitting on its nest. Despite its large size, this bird is wonderfully adapted for the soaring flight and is able to glide for hours before needing to flap its wings in order to regain height. A Wandering albatross spends all its time at sea, aside from when it is breeding, far from even any islands. It sleeps on the water’s surface, during the day gliding and flying, searching for food, which is abundant.


Wandering albatrosses fly over the southern oceans and breed on islands just to the north of the Antarctic Circle, in particular, the UK’s South Georgia Island, South Africa’s Marion and Prince Edward Islands, Crozet, and the Kerguelen Islands in the French Southern Territories, and Australia’s Macquarie Island. These islands have peat soils, tussock grass, mosses, sedges, and shrubs. The birds nest in sheltered areas in valleys, or on plateaus, ridges, or plains.

Wandering Albatross habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Wandering albatrosses spend most of their life in flight, landing only to breed and feed. While foraging at sea in the daytime, these birds travel in small groups. Sometimes there are large feeding frenzies around fishing boats. An individual may fly thousands of kilometers from its breeding grounds, sometimes crossing the equator. In the breeding season, a Wandering albatross is gregarious and performs a range of displays. Vocalizations and displays are common when mating or defending territory and include croaks, bill-touching, bill-clapping, pointing to the sky, trumpeting, head-shaking, the “gawky look” and the "ecstatic" gesture. Individuals sometimes vocalize when they are fighting over food. These birds usually disperse over the Southern Ocean once the breeding season ends, and most of them probably travel east, perhaps in a circumpolar movement.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Wandering albatrosses are carnivores (piscivores and molluscivores), they mainly eat fish, including toothfish, squid, and other cephalopods, and the occasional crustacean.

Mating Habits

78 days
9 months
1 egg

Wandering albatrosses are monogamous and pairs mate for life. Courtship displays are the same as other species, with bill-circling, sky-pointing, mutual preening, and spreading wings. Both males and females perform some dances while raising their spread wings and calling. The pair will only defend a small territory around their nest. Fights may occur, but these are usually over food. Breeding is from December until March. This species breeds in loose colonies, and typically the nests are in scattered groups. Nests are a mound of mud and grass on the ground of the slopes, among the sparse vegetation. A single creamy-white egg is laid, and both parents take turns incubating for periods of 2-3 weeks over 78 days. The downy white chick is brooded for 4-5 weeks, being fed by regurgitation, and remaining on the nest for around 9 months. Once it fledges, it flies out to sea, returning to the colony after 5-6 years. It will not start breeding until it is 11-15 years old.


Population threats

Wandering albatrosses are relatively well protected, due to both their remote location and certain laws. However, its numbers are still slowly declining. The most likely cause is longline fishing, as they become hooked and will drown, as well as the ingestion of plastics, which kills both chicks and adults. Once hunted for their feathers to decorate women’s hats, this practice has disappeared due to changes in fashion. On Kerguelen Island, feral cats have killed entire broods of chicks.

Population number

According to IUCN’s Red List, the current estimates for Wandering albatrosses in specific areas are: on South Georgia (Georgias del Sur), 1,553 pairs; on Prince Edward Island, 1,800 pairs; on Marion Island, 2,056 pairs; on Iles Crozet, 340 pairs; on Iles Kerguelen, 354 pairs; and on Macquarie Island, 4 pairs, a total of 6,107 breeding pairs, equating to about 20,100 mature individuals. Overall, currently, Wandering albatrosses are classified as Vulnerable (VU) and their numbers today are decreasing.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • This species is the largest in its genus (Diomedea) and one of the world’s largest birds.
  • Wandering albatrosses can travel as far as 500 km in a day, spending most of their life flying
  • These birds can sometimes eat so much that they cannot fly and have to stay resting on the water.
  • Wandering albatrosses are superb gliders and can soar through the air without needing to flap their wings for some hours.
  • A Wandering albatross has a special gland above its nasal passage which produces a high saline solution to help maintain the salt level in its body, dealing with the saltwater it takes in.
  • The older a Wandering albatross is, the whiter it gets.


1. Wandering Albatross Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wandering_albatross
2. Wandering Albatross on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22698305/0

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