The wandering albatross is a truly
remarkable bird. Residents of the species on the sub Antarctica
island of South Georgia have been known to make regular fishing
trips that take them as far as the seas off Uruguay and southern Brazil,
round trips of thousands of kilometres over several days repeated frequently,
and all to catch food for themselves and their young. Any visiting ship
to the South Atlantic will almost certainly at some time be followed
by one or more albatrosses, wheeling and turning around the ship, following
at a distance hypnotically and silently.
The bird in this picture is a juvenile
recognisable by the dark wing tips. As the bird ages, the dark patches
recede further to the tips of the wings, so it becomes whiter. After
leaving the nest they are thought not to return to land again for 7
to 10 years when they return to the island where they were born. Albatrosses
mate for life and can live to be 80 - 85 years old probably making them
the animal that travels further than any other in their life-time.
The birds rarely flap their wings that
can measure up to 4 metres in span. They swoop low over the never ending
swell of the southern ocean, dipping down when the sea falls and rising
on the air that is pushed up again when the wave rises. In this manner
they are able to fly continuously and cover vast distances with the
minimum of effort. There is even a mechanism within the base of the
wing to "lock" it in an extended position so the bird doesn't need to
strain to keep its "arms" out.
The albatross is a large bird with a
large chick. The chick is so large (12kg when it leaves the nest) that
it takes just over 12 months to develop fully. This means that the albatross
is in the same select group as king and emperor penguins in that it
has a breeding cycle that stretches over 2 years.
In folklore the bird carries
the soul of dead mariners. If a sailor kills the bird, bad luck would
fall upon him for the rest of his natural life. This was not a universal
belief as the feet of the albatross were once used as tobacco pouches
The name albatross dates
back to the 15th century when Portuguese sailors first ventured down
the coast of Africa, they came across large black and white birds with
stout bodies and called them "alcatraz" the Portuguese word meaning
large seabird. English sailors later corrupted the word to albatross.
bird that made the breeze to blow" taken from Samuel Taylor Coleridge
"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner".
This authoritative volume
is the first comparative account of the albatross family, famed for
their supreme adaptations to the marine environment, for breeding on
remote islands, and for spending most of their lives flying immense
distances over the sea.
Eye of the Albatross:
Views of the Endangered Sea
In this impressive volume, the award winning author,
recounts his travels to remote portions of the northwest Hawaiian Islands
to witness albatrosses breeding. Parent birds fly across entire oceans
as much as 25,000 miles to hunt sufficient food to nurture their single