Wandering Albatross

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Common Name: Wandering Albatross
Scientific Name: Diomedea exulans

Size: 42 – 53 inches (107–135 cm)

Habitat: Circumpolar range in the Southern Ocean. Wandering Albatross typically forages in oceanic waters; however considerable time is spent over shelf areas during certain stages of the breeding season.

Status: Vulnerable. Global Population: 26,000 and decreasing. The observed decline of this species is believed to be driven largely by incidental catch in fisheries, which has reduced adult survival and juvenile recruitment. The vast foraging range means that birds encounter many different longline fleets. Fisheries were responsible for a 54% decrease in numbers on the Crozet Islands between 1970 and 1986. In 2007 a survey of Wandering Albatross chicks on Bird Island revealed that half had ingested fishing hooks. The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has introduced measures which have reduced bycatch of albatrosses around South Georgia by over 99%. Recently, other Regional Fisheries Management Organizations, including the tuna commissions, have taken initial steps to reduce seabird bycatch rates. The Prince Edward Islands are a special nature reserve and Macquarie is a World Heritage Site. Large parts of the breeding colonies on the Crozet and Kerguelen Islands are now part of a Nature Reserve.

Diet: Cephalopods, small fish, and crustaceans. Albatross feed mostly at night. They also follow sailing vessels, waiting for animal refuse thrown, and eating to such excess at times that they are unable to fly and rest helplessly on the water. They are prone to following ships for refuse. They can also make shallow dives.

Nesting: This albatross is a biennial breeding species; although about 30% of successful and 35% of failed breeders (on average) defer breeding beyond the expected year. Adults return to colonies in November, and eggs are laid over a period of 5 weeks during December and January. Breeding colonies are at Crozet and Kerguelen Islands. Most eggs hatch in March, and chicks fledge in December. Birds usually return to colonies when 5-7 years old, though can return when as young as 3 years old. Birds can start breeding as young as 7 or 8 years old. Wandering Albatross nests in open or patchy vegetation near exposed ridges or hillocks

Cool Facts: The Wandering Albatross has the largest wingspan of any living bird, with the wingspan between 2.51–3.50 m (8.2–11.5 ft) The longest-winged examples verified have been about 3.7 m (12 ft), but probably apocryphal reports of as much as 5.3 m (17 ft) are known. As a result of its wingspan, it is capable of remaining in the air without beating its wings for several hours at a time (travelling 22 m for every meter of drop).

They also have a salt gland that is situated above the nasal passage and helps desalinate their bodies, due to the high amount of ocean water that they imbibe. It excretes a high saline solution from their nose.

Sailors used to capture the birds for their long wing bones, which they manufactured into tobacco-pipe stems. The early explorers of the great Southern Sea cheered themselves with the companionship of the albatross in their dreary solitudes; and the evil fate of him who shot with his cross-bow the "bird of good omen" is familiar to readers of Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The metaphor of "an albatross around his neck" also comes from the poem and indicates an unwanted burden causing anxiety or hindrance. In the days of sail the bird often accompanied ships for days, not merely following it, but wheeling in wide circles around it without ever being observed to land on the water. It continued its flight, apparently untired, in tempestuous as well as moderate weather.

Myths, Stories & Legend: Albatrosses have been described as "the most legendary of all birds". An albatross is a central emblem in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge; a captive albatross is also a metaphor for the poète maudit in a poem of Charles Baudelaire. It is from the Coleridge poem that the usage of albatross as a metaphor is derived; someone with a burden or obstacle is said to have 'an albatross around their neck', the punishment given in the poem to the mariner who killed the albatross. In part due to the poem, there is a widespread myth that sailors believe it disastrous to shoot or harm an albatross; in truth, however, sailors regularly killed and ate them, but they were often regarded as the souls of lost sailors.

In the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, the story begins with his ship departing on its journey. Despite initial good fortune, the ship is driven south off course by a storm and eventually reaches Antarctica. An albatross appears and leads the ship out of the Antarctic, but even as the albatross is praised by the crew, the Mariner shoots the bird.

God save thee, ancient Mariner
From the fiends, that plague thee thus
Why look'st thou so ? - With my cross-bow
I shot the Albatross.

The crew is angry with the Mariner, believing the albatross brought the South Wind that led them out of the Antarctic. However, the sailors change their minds when the weather becomes warmer and the mist disappears.

The crime arouses the wrath of spirits who then pursue the ship "from the land of mist and snow"; the south wind which had initially led them from the land of ice now sends the ship into uncharted waters, where it is becalmed.

Here, however, the sailors change their minds again and blame the Mariner for the torment of their thirst. In anger, the crew forces the Mariner to wear the dead albatross about his neck, perhaps to illustrate the burden he must suffer from killing it, or perhaps as a sign of regret.

Ah. well a-day. what evil looks
Had I from old and young
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

Eventually, in an eerie passage, the ship encounters a ghostly vessel. On board are Death (a skeleton) and the "Night-mare Life-in-Death" (a deathly-pale woman), who are playing dice for the souls of the crew. With a roll of the dice, Death wins the lives of the crew members and Life-in-Death the life of the Mariner, a prize she considers more valuable. Her name is a clue as to the Mariner's fate; he will endure a fate worse than death as punishment for his killing of the albatross.

Found in Songbird ReMix Birds of Legend

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