Albatrosses are some of the largest and most impressive birds in all the animal kingdom. Few birdwatchers get the chance to see these birds through their own binoculars because of their open ocean habitat and remote breeding sites, however.
Most of the world's albatrosses live and breed in the cold and windy southern oceans, although three species can be seen out over the open waters of the northern pacific.
Albatrosses are the largest flying seabirds. In fact, these majestic birds have the largest wingspan of any living bird. Scientists are still working on their classification, but there are probably about two-dozen albatross species in four genera. The largest albatross species can weigh over 26 pounds and measure well over 11 feet from wing tip to wing tip.
Albatrosses are made for the air. These birds soar low to the water surface using an energy-efficient flying method known as dynamic soaring.
They are able to fly into even strong wind without flapping by using the lift provided by their wings, their streamlined form, and the power of gravity.
This article covers the impressive size of the largest albatrosses as well as the species you are most likely to see. We’ll also learn about why these birds get so big and how they compare with other large bird species.
Albatrosses have the largest wingspan of any living bird
Albatrosses have the largest wingspans of any flying birds on the planet. When they are not breeding, these birds spend all of their lives out at sea, moving between rich fishing grounds. They use their long, narrow wings to travel incredible distances of up to 15 000 miles each month. Let that soak in for a minute!
Read on to discover the albatross species with the largest wingspans.
The wandering albatross has the largest wingspan of any living bird. There are 5 subspecies of wandering albatross, and the snowy wandering albatross (D. e. exulans) of the Southern Ocean is the largest.
Like the wandering albatross, the royal albatross has also been split into two subspecies. The southern subspecies (D. e. epomophora) which breeds on the Campbell and Auckland islands is the larger of the two.
The short-tailed albatross has the largest wingspan of all the species found in the northern Pacific. These large seabirds can turn up just about anywhere offshore between the west coast of North America and Asia on the other side of the ocean.
The black-footed albatross is the species you are most likely to see off the west coast of North America. They may be dwarfed by the wandering and royal albatross, but they are still very impressive in their own right!
Wandering Albatrosses are the biggest species of Albatross
Albatrosses are surprisingly heavy for birds that spend so much time in the air. In fact, few flying birds reach the weight of albatrosses, and those that do certainly don’t have the same incredible flying abilities!
Read on to learn which albatross species weigh the most.
The wandering albatross has both the largest wingspan and the greatest mass of any flying seabird. With such a great mass, these birds rely on strong winds to stay airborne, something they can do for very long periods of time.
The royal albatross is only slightly smaller than the wandering albatross, although weight varies greatly in both species. Like the wandering albatross, these heavy birds only occur in the windiest parts of the world since they can’t fly for very long in still conditions.
The short-tailed albatross is the largest of the three species you are likely to encounter off the west coast of North America. These vulnerable sea birds are most likely to turn up off the coast of Alaska in the north.
The laysan albatross is another species that can be seen off the coast of North America. This species holds the title of the world's oldest known wild bird. A female that is affectionately known as Wisdom was tagged way back in 1956 when she was probably already about 5 years old!
Coming in at an impressive second, Royal Albatrosses can reach weights of over 10kg!
The albatrosses of the Diomedea genus are the largest species by a wide margin. Originally classified as just two species, these birds have since been split into no less than 7 subspecies, with some authorities suggesting each represents its own full species.
The largest albatross species in the world is the wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans). These immense birds have a body length of up to 51 inches (135cm) and an incredible wingspan of 11 feet and 6 inches (351cm). Wandering albatrosses are heavy too, with large specimens weighing over 26 pounds.
Wandering Albatross on the water
Albatrosses are the largest flying seabirds. They use their massive wings to harness the power of variations in airflow above the surface of the water. This flying technique is known as dynamic soaring and it allows the birds to travel amazing distances to rich feeding grounds without even needing to flap their wings. Naturally, such large wings need a large body to support and power them.
When it comes to albatross size, diet is also a big factor. The wandering albatross feeds mostly on large species of squid like the giant warty squid (Moroteuthopsis longimana) and the giant cuttlefish (Sepia apama) that they catch from the surface or at depths of about three feet or less.
This limits competition with smaller seabirds that target smaller prey items. Size can also be a great advantage when there is competition for a shared resource. This is clear to see when the larger species dominate others around food sources.
Short-tailed albatross in flight, Japan
Albatrosses are known to be giants in the seabird world, but how do they stack up against other large bird species? Keep reading to find out!
The African ostrich is the largest living bird species in the world. These flightless birds can grow to nearly 9 feet tall and weigh over 340 pounds. With a wingspan of just 6 feet 6 inches (2m) however, ostriches fall well short of the albatross.
The kori bustard of Africa and the great bustard of Europe and Asia take the prize for the heaviest flying birds. These massive ground birds can reach over 40 pounds, although they certainly do not have the same grace as the albatrosses!
The Andean condor from South America comes close to the size of the largest albatrosses. These vultures are a little heavier at up to 33 pounds (15 kilograms) and have just a slightly smaller wingspan of 10 feet 6 inches (320cm).
The trumpeter swan is the heaviest flying bird in North America. These giant water birds have much shorter wings but are even heavier than albatrosses at just under 28 pounds.
Waved albatross (Phoebastria irrorata) in flight
Albatrosses are significantly larger than seagulls. The largest gull species, the great black-backed gull of the northern Atlantic is no small bird, however.
Albatrosses are the largest flying seabirds but they are not the only big oceanic birds. The southern and northern giant petrels can reach weights of over 12 lbs 12oz (5.8kg) and have wingspans of nearly 7 feet (2.1m). The largest seabird overall is the emperor penguin, a flightless bird that can reach an astonishing 101lbs 6oz (46kg).
The mollymawks of the genus Thalassarche are the smallest albatrosses. The Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross stands out as the smallest species with a maximum weight of about 6 lbs (2.8 kg) and a wingspan of 7 feet (215cm).
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