Snowy [Wandering] Albatross (Diomedea exulans)


Recently split from other Gibson's, Antipodean and Tristan Albatrosses. For clarity, it seems safer to refer to this specific form as 'Snowy Albatross' to distinguish them from other 'wandering albatross'-types.


Except for a distinctive white face mask young wandering albatrosses are a rich brown colour and can be very similar to the 'dark' forms of  the Great Albatross, such as Amsterdam and Antipodes Albatrosses. Snowy [Wandering] Albatrosses become progressively whiter with age. Males tend to be whiter than females of comparable age. Mature adults have the whitest upperwing of all great albatrosses, exceeding Southern Royal Albatross.

Where and When

The total world population comprises some 14,000 pairs which breed on islands scattered across the Southern Ocean (South Georgia, Marion Island, Prince Edward Island, The Crozets, Iles Kerguelen and Macquarie Island). Non-breeding birds range throughout the Southern Ocean.

Generally begin their first breeding attempt at about 8 years of age. In South Georgia, the eggs are laid in late December and hatch in late March. The chicks are reared by both parents during the harsh Austral winter and finally fledge the following summer (average 278 days after hatching). Wandering Albatrosses nest on flat open ground, affording plenty of room to take off on windless days.

The diet consists principally of squid and fish. Studies conducted by the British Antarctic Survey on Bird Island, South Georgia have shown that breeding Wandering Albatrosses regularly undertake feeding runs to the seas off Brazil to obtain food for the chick. Such a journey of over 3750 miles (6000 km) take about 8 days during and typically yield a 1-2 kg meal for the chick. Once the juvenile down is shed, the chicks fast before fledging (up to 50 days) to acquire their correct weight for going to sea.

Photographs on the web

Mature adults 2 shots, courting birds on South Georgia and in flight on Scotia Sea both by Greg Lasley.

Adult 2 adults flight off Australia by Tony Palliser and posted on his pelagic web site.

Small series Off Kaikoura, New Zealand by Dennis Buurman of Ocean wings, NZ.


Tomkins, R. J. (1985) Attendance of Wandering Albatrosses (Diomedea exulans) at a small colony on Macquarie Island. ANARE Research Notes, 29: 20 pp

Tomkins, R.J. (1985) Reproduction and mortality of Wandering Albatrosses on Macquarie Island. Emu 85: p40-42.

Tomkins, R.J. (1984) Some aspects of the morphology of Wandering Albatrosses on Macquarie Island. Emu 84: p28-32.

Tomkins, R.J. (1983) Fertilisation of Wandering Albatross eggs on Macquarie Island. Notornis, 30: p244-246.

Carrick, R., Keith, K. and Gwynn, A.M. (1960) Fact and fiction on the breeding of the Wandering Albatross. Nature, 188: p112-114

de la Mare, W.K. and Kerry, K.R. (1994) Population dynamics of the Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans) on Macquarie Island and the effects of mortality from longline fishing. Polar Biology, 14: p231-241.

Nicholls, D., Battam, H., Brothers, N., Butcher, E., Hildebrandt, M., Moors, P., Murray, D. and Robertson, G. (1992) Preliminary results of satellite tracking of the Wandering Albatross around and from Australia. Corella, 16(5): p134-136.

Jenkins, R.J. (1983) Purple bill flushes and pink ear marks on Wandering Albatross on Macquarie Island. Australasian Seabird Group Newsletter, 18: p11-15.

Jameson, W. (1958) The Wandering Albatross. Hart-Davis, London, 99 pp.

Copyright © 2002 All rights reserved. Angus Wilson
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