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Published on April 1st, 2010 | by Yellow Magpie

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The Albatross Bird: The True Majestic King Of The Skies

Albatross Bird

A large shadow casts its moving mark along the ground. Silently soaring in the heavens, a great expanse of white feather glides across the horizon. It seems to be in defiance. Stark, raw and untroubled, it appears to disregard the laws of physics as it steadfastly refuses to flap its wings. Instead they lay fixed, rigid. The Albatross bird is unflinching, unyielding as it takes its place in the firmament.

Not vaingloriously, but rightfully retaining its regal status of king of the skies. This sight we have called the Albatross.

Wandering Albatross Bird Flying

Few birds can match the efficiency and enormous presence that the Albatross (Diomedea) possesses. One of the most majestic of birds, the albatross is both big and graceful.

The Physically Imposing Albatross Bird

The albatross bird is one of the most physically imposing of all birds. The largest of all the flying birds it is perhaps the closest animal to the extinct pterodactyls that roamed in the age of the Dinosaur.

There are officially twenty species recognised by scientists. Although there may be some other species as of yet unidentified. They feed mainly on fish, krill and squid.

Efficient Fliers

What makes the albatross bird so unique is the amount of time that they spend in the air. Not only do they fly far longer than other birds, they can spend up to a decade continuously flying. Scientists started tracking albatrosses in Hawaii in the late 90s. Since then it has been discovered that the bird can circle the globe in as little as two months.

What is of even more interest is that they often do not flap their wings for several days whilst staying airborne. In fact, the bird sleeps while flying, shutting off one half of its brain and then the other. It rotates brain activity in cycles as it sleeps.

Unlike most birds, the albatross does not fly high and does not rely on unpredictable thermals. Instead they fly low to the water and obtain lift as the wind is reflected upwards off waves. It is probably much more accurate to view the albatross as a glider rather than a flier. The only time that there is any frenetic beating of its wings is when it is taking off. Whilst airborne it mostly glides effortlessly over water.

One of the key reasons why the albatross bird can stay airborne for so long is in its shoulders. It possesses a shoulder-lock tendon which keeps the wings in a fixed, fully-outstretched, position. This adaptation means that the bird wastes no energy in keeping its wings stretched open.

Remarkable Beaks

Another remarkable adaptation that albatrosses are endowed with are tube-like shafts that lead to very keen sense or scent organs. Unlike other large ‘tube-nosed’ birds (Procellariiformes ), their tubes run the length of their beaks.

In real terms, so keen is their sense of smell, because of these tubes, the albatross can hunt their prey from miles away. This also allows them to identify their both their young and nesting sites from afar and helps to explain how they locate their nest in a throng of thousands.

In some species, the tubes also allow them to visibly expel salt from their beaks. However, all albatrosses posses a gland which removes salt from their bodies in the form of a saline solution.

Although they are supreme conquerors of the skies, they are less than sure-footed when landing. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that they only land whilst breeding or fending for their young, quite seldom when you consider the amount of time they spend in flight.

Black-Footed Albatross Bird Photo By Dr. James P. McVey

Monogamists

When an albatross birds mates, they do so for life. They even have their own unique greetings when they rejoin after being separated.

Each parent takes turns obtaining food for the chick whilst the remaining parent sits on the nest. When feeding their young they either regurgitate solid food or, in the case of longer distanced flights, a concentrated, rich in protein, oil.

Fictitious Omens

It would be remiss of Yellow Magpie to not talk about the association between the albatross and the supposed bad luck they bring to sailors. This myth is mentioned in many books and online sources.

However, the probable truth of the matter is that this was the creation of  Samuel Taylor Coleridge. His poem, ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, is a fictional account of the ills that a sailor suffers when he kills an albatross.

Shy Albatross Bird Photo by JJ Harrison

Soaring King Of The Skies

The albatross is one of the most majestic sights in the animal kingdom. Its huge size and graceful presence suggests that perhaps we are mistaken in our categorisation of big as always being clumsy and inefficient. For if these birds are defined, clumsy and inefficient will not be the words that are used.

Vital Statistics

  • The largest of the flying birds, the albatross can have a wingspan as large as 3.5 metres (11 feet) across as in the case of the Wandering Albatross.
  • They typically weigh up to 8 kg (18 lbs), although in some cases the chicks can be 12 kg (26 lbs), heavier than the parents.  This is due to the need for fatty insulation to survive the harsh winters.
  • Albatrosses can live up to 50 years. Some have been recorded to be even older, at over 60 years.
  • They are typically found in the South Pacific, especially in New Zealand where up to 12 species reside,  the South Atlantic and Antarctica.


Further Reading

Eye of the Albatross: Visions of Hope and Survival is an excellent read. Full of insightful commentary and poetic descriptions of the majestic bird, the book also does an excellent job highlighting the peril that modern fishing has placed it under.

Amazon.co.uk
For people living in Ireland or the United Kingdom, you can access Eye of the Albatross: Visions of Hope and Survival here.

Amazon.ca
For those who live in Canada, you can obtain Eye of the Albatross: Visions of Hope and Survival.

Amazon.de
For Germany: Eye of the Albatross: Visions of Hope and Survival.

Amazon.fr
For France: Eye of the Albatross: Visions of Hope and Survival.


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3 Responses to The Albatross Bird: The True Majestic King Of The Skies

  1. Daniel says:

    great post, thanks for sharing

  2. ken hope says:

    i was just woundering that if air ports around the world can keep birds away from landing strips is the a tone that a fishing boat fishing near there grounds where the feed play this tone only the bird can here it so when the fishing boat buts it line out with bate on the albatross would not go for the bite there not getting the hook in his stoke this will sure save them from being killed what do you think please let me know kind regards ken hope

  3. Yellow Magpie says:

    Thanks for your comment Ken.

    That seems like a great idea. http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/news/sound-idea-puts-birds-at-airport-to-flight/381357

    There is nothing to suggest that it wouldn’t work on boats. Perhaps you should get in contact with the EPA, here is the UK site: http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/contactus/default.aspx.

    Although if you want more than just the UK to take note you could try Greenpeace: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/about/contactus/.

    It seems like a great idea – give it a go and tell us how you get on. We would love to hear back from you.

    The Yellow Magpie team.

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