Grey-headed Albatross (Diomedea chrysostoma)



Also known as Flat-billed Albatross, Gould's Albatross, Grey-mantled Albatross, Yellow-nosed Albatross (confusing!), and Grey-headed Mollymawk. The latin name is from the Greek meaning 'gold-mouth', alluding to the chrome-yellow bill markings.

Fig.1. Subadult Grey-headed Albatross, mostly likely a first-year, photographed by Murray Lord off Sydney, Australia on 8 July 2000. Photograph copyright of Murray Lord©, 2000.


A medium-sized albatross, similar in size and structure to Black-browed Albatross. Adult has a distinctive combination of a gray hood, black bill with yellow-orange stripes along the culmen and bottom of the lower mandible, and a largely white underwing with a broader dark leading margin. May also potentially be confused with Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross and even Buller's Albatross.

Fig. 2. Another view of the subadult Grey-headed Albatross shown in Fig. 1. Photograph copyright of Murray Lord©, 2000.

The exact changes in appearance as birds mature are poorly understood. The gray hood tends to be more worn and can develop a patchy appearance even being reduced to no more than a pronounced gray hindcollar. The underwing pattern is similar to the adult except that the leading margin is broader and less crisply-defined. There may also be obvious dark streaks across the median underwing coverts. According to HANZAB, a full-adult underwing pattern can be achieved before the definitive bill color. Older immatures would thus only be separable from adults by virtue of duller yellow stripes along the bill and a duller orange tip.

No subspecies are recognized, although birds from South Georgia may be larger than those from New Zealand breeding localities.

Fig. 3. Adult Grey-headed Albatross photographed at sea off South Georgia January 1999. Photograph copyright of Ron Saldino©, 1999.

Where and When

Breeds on Diego Ramirez Island in Cape Horn (c. 20,000 pairs but declining), South Georgia (c. 48,000 pairs), Marion and Prince Edward Islands (c. 7,000 pairs), The Crozets (c. 6000 pairs), Kerguelen Island (8,000 pairs), Macquarie Island (c. 100 pairs) and Campbell Island (c. 12,000 pairs). Nests biannually on tussock covered cliffs, steep slopes and hillsides. Often mixed in with Black-browed Alabatross. During the summer months, found in cold water either side of the Antarctic Convergence. During the southern winter, most birds move northwards into the subtropics. Generally far from shore but occasionally seen in inshore waters (e.g. off southern Australia or in Humbolt Current). May concentrate over tidal rips, such as in the Cook Strait of New Zealand. A vagrant to Tahiti in the Central Pacific.

There are current no substantiated records for Northern hemisphere.

Photographs on the web

Adult? In flight, slightly distant shot showing underwing pattern to great effect. Taken in January off Campbell Island, New Zealand by Tony Palliser and posted on his pelagic web site.

Adult on nestTaken on Diego Ramirez Island, Chile.


Many thanks to Murray Lord and Ron Saldino for generously allowing me to use their photographs.


Copson, G.R. (1988) The status of the black-browed and grey-headed albatrosses on Macquarie Island. Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania 122(1): p137-141.

Prince, P. A. and Rodwell, S. P. (1994) Aging immature Black-browed and Grey-headed Albatrosses using moult, bill and plumage characterisitics. Emu 94: 246-254.

Waugh, S. M., P. M. Sagar, & R. O. Cossee. (1999) New Zealand Black-browed Albatross Diomedea melanophrys impavida and Grey-headed Albatross D. chrysostoma banded at Campbell Island: recoveries from the South Pacific region. Emu 99: 29-35.

Photographs copyright of Murray Lord© 2000 and Ron Saldino© 2000. My thanks to them!

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