The wandering albatross has the largest wingspan of any bird and is perhaps the most magnificent of all twelve species of albatross.

Dancing Birds

Wandering albatross nest - © Liam Q CC BY 2.0The birds gather in large numbers and the males and females perform elaborate and spectacular courtship displays. The two birds of a pair dance awkwardly around each other, bowing and clattering their bills, with the wings outstretched. At the end of the performance they point their bills to the sky and scream loudly.

At the beginning of the breeding season, which lasts from November until July, several males may be seen dancing around one female. Once a bird has found a suitable mate, which may take a few years, they remain together until one of them dies.

A large, untidy nest is built by both birds, using soil and vegetation to make a cup-shaped mound about 1 metre across and 30cm high. A single egg is laid, white with red spots, and the parents share the incubation, the male doing most of the sitting. The pair usually change over every two to three weeks and lose quite a lot of body weight during each shift. The chick hatches after about 78 days, which includes three days for the chick to break out of the shell.

The parents brood their chick for a short time and it is fed daily for the first 20 days with regurgitated squid, etc. Then the parents leave their offspring alone while they go out to sea and return every 10 days or so to feed it with huge meals. At this stage, the chick may be vulnerable to predators such as skuas, who will eat both eggs and chicks if left unguarded. The large, fluffy white chick continues to sit in its nest and is fed throughout the whole of the severe southern winter, until the following summer - a period of nearly nine months. As a result, the parents can only breed every other year. Eventually the young albatross launches itself into the wind and glides away over the ocean. It may circle the globe many times before returning to the breeding ground to look for a mate.

Read More: The Wandering Albatross and Humans

Related Resources