Antarctic Birds: Black-browed Albatross

After the smaller members of the tubenose-family, it’s now time for the bigger ones: the albatrosses. The most common species of albatross in the Drake Passage is the Black-browed. With a wingspan of around 2.5 meters, this is one of the smaller albatrosses (but still a bit larger as the giant petrels).

Two Black-browed Albatrosses

Adult Black-browed Albatrosses are easily identified by their large wingspan (compared to most other petrels), dark upper wings and back, big orange bill and black eyebrow (hence the name). Like all albatrosses, they fly with stiff wings and are only rarely seen flapping their wings. They need some air current over their wings to create some uplift, which keeps them in the air. This means we typically only see them when there is some wind. So, where many people often hope for a very calm Drake Passage, do I always hope for at least some wind. Maybe not the kind that creates 10m high waves, but a typical Drake with winds of 20-30 knots is nice to get some birds around.

Around Cape Horn, one can sometimes find large groups of Black-browed Albatrosses (and other species).

Black-browed Albatrosses can be seen all around the Southern Ocean and they breed on several subantarctic islands, but mainly on the Falkland Islands. They are often seen following ships

Black-browed Albatross at the colony in the Falklands.

As agile they are in the air, so clumsy they are on land. When you visit a Black-browed Albatross colony, you can clearly see they were built to fly and not to walk around on land. They try to avoid this as much as possible but have to come ashore of course to breed.

Massive Black-browed Albatross colony at Steeple Jason, Falkland Islands

Just like all other tubenoses, the Black-browed Albatross lays one egg which is taken care for by both parents. They take turns incubating the egg for around 70 days and feed the chick for another 120 days. The partner who is not with the chick can stay away for many days and fly several hundred or maybe even thousands of kilometres to find food for the chick.

Black-browed Albatross and chick at their nest.

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