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Albatrosses: Diomedeidae

Behavior And Reproduction

Though quiet while at sea, albatrosses are quite noisy at breeding colonies, where they communicate by wailing, crying, and clattering their bills. There is a definite courtship, rituals associated with mating, among the albatross, ranging from dances and wing displays to "calling" to one another.

Though fighting is not a regular occurrence, the albatross will defend its nest site. Usually a threat display or charging will be enough of a warning, but the hooked bill is useful in damaging eyes and bills if necessary. If approached, chicks and parents will regurgitate, bring up from the stomach, stomach oil and spew it at the intruder, covering him in a waxy substance that can harm feathers. The albatross grooms itself often, and parents are quite attentive to the cleaning of the chicks.


In 1798, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote a poem titled, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The mariner and his crew were visited by an albatross, considered by many to be a sign of good luck. When the mariner shoots the bird, his ship and shipmates are lost, he is blamed for committing a sin by killing a good-luck omen. As punishment, his shipmates hang the dead albatross around the neck of the ancient mariner. This poem popularized the albatross, and led it to become part of slang expression. The word "albatross" is now a figurative expression used to mean "something that hinders or handicaps."

After finding suitable land, the albatross usually builds a bowl-shaped nest and deposits a single egg into it. Albatrosses are monogamous, having one mate, and lay one egg each year. Incubation, the time it takes to warm the egg sufficiently for hatching to begin, lasts anywhere from sixty-five to eighty-five days. Parents take turns sitting on the egg, and both will play a role in raising the chick. Each turn lasts from one to twenty-nine days. Hatching occurs over a period of two to five days. Chicks remain with a parent at all times for the first three months and will fledge, take its first flight, between 120 and 180 days for smaller species to 220 and 303 days for the larger family members.

Albatrosses do not begin breeding until they are between the ages of five and fifteen years. Chicks have a high survival rate because the breeding site has very few land predators. Annual mortality, death, rates for adults range from 3 to 9 percent. The oldest known albatross was still breeding at more than sixty-two years old.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceBirdsAlbatrosses: Diomedeidae - Physical Characteristics, Habitat, Behavior And Reproduction, Chatham Mollymawk (diomedea Cauta Eremita): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, DIET, ALBATROSSES AND PEOPLE, CONSERVATION STATUS