A Laysan albatrosss (Phoebastria immutabilis) photographed at Monterey Bay Aquarium in California
A Laysan albatrosss (Phoebastria immutabilis) photographed at Monterey Bay Aquarium in California
Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark

Albatrosses

Common Name:
Albatrosses
Scientific Name:
Diomedeidae
Type:
Birds
Diet:
Carnivore
Group Name:
Flock
Average Life Span In The Wild:
Up to 50 years
Size:
Wingspan: 6.5 to 11 feet
Weight:
Up to 22 pounds

An albatross aloft can be a spectacular sight. These feathered giants have the longest wingspan of any bird—up to 11 feet! The wandering albatross is the biggest of some two dozen different species. Albatrosses use their formidable wingspans to ride the ocean winds and sometimes to glide for hours without rest or even a flap of their wings. They also float on the sea's surface, though the position makes them vulnerable to aquatic predators. Albatrosses drink salt water, as do some other sea birds.

Breeding

These long-lived birds have reached a documented 50 years of age. They are rarely seen on land and gather only to breed, at which time they form large colonies on remote islands. Mating pairs produce a single egg and take turns caring for it. Young albatrosses may fly within three to ten months, depending on the species, but then leave the land behind for some five to ten years until they themselves reach sexual maturity. Some species appear to mate for life.

Diet

Albatrosses feed primarily on squid or schooling fish, but are familiar to mariners because they sometimes follow ships in hopes of dining on handouts or garbage. Albatrosses have a special place in maritime lore and superstition, most memorably evoked in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Relationship with Humans

Some albatross species were heavily hunted for feathers that were used as down and in the manufacture of women's hats. The Laysan albatross was important to the indigenous hunters of the northern seas. Excavations of Aleut and Eskimo settlements reveal many albatross bones and suggest that the birds were an important part of human diet in the region.

This photo was submitted to Your Shot, our photo community on Instagram. Follow us on Instagram at @natgeoyourshot or visit us at natgeo.com/yourshot for the latest submissions and news about the community.
This photo was submitted to Your Shot, our photo community on Instagram. Follow us on Instagram at @natgeoyourshot or visit us at natgeo.com/yourshot for the latest submissions and news about the community.
Photograph by Kari F., National Geographic Your Shot

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet