Antarctic Birds: Grey-headed Albatross

About the same size as the Black-browed Albatross is the Grey-headed Albatross. Obviously with a grey head and a gorgeous black bill with a fine yellow line along the edge. The Grey-headed Albatross breeds on several Subantarctic islands and can be seen flying throughout the Southern Ocean.

Grey-headed Albatross

Just like many tubenoses, the Grey-headed Albatross is listed as ‘endangered’ on the IUCN red list. Reason for this is a decline in numbers due to several (human) factors. First of all, there are the birds caught as bycatch by longline fisheries. These fisheries use long lines with hundreds of hooks with bait attached. As many of tubenoses follow ships, they see the bait, dive for it, get hooked and drown. Something which is fairly easy to solve with the right measures, but it’s still killing lots of albatrosses.

Grey-headed Albatross

The second reason for the decline is the presence of non-native invasive species like rats and mice on their breeding islands. These birds breed on islands that used to be free of land-based predators, so have no defence against them. With the arrival of explorers and whalers, rats and mice also arrived on the islands, decimating many of the breeding colonies. Fortunately, several rat and mice eradication programs have started or even successfully ended (like on South Georgia). Finally, climate change will also have an effect on the survival of these species. Like I said, for both the longline fisheries and the predators, programs have already started (and in some cases finished) to solve the problem, which will have a positive effect on these birds. Climate change is still a different story, however.

Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.

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