Antarctic Birds: Southern Royal Albatross

As I already wrote in the post about the Wandering Albatross, the two royal albatrosses are almost as big. In fact, a large royal albatross might have a longer wingspan as a small Wandering. While crossing the Drake Passage, we can see both the Southern as the Northern Royal Albatross, with the former much more common as the latter. In fact, while looking though my foto database, I couldn’t find one picture of a Northern Royal, hence all pictures in this post are of Southern Royals.

Southern Royal Albatross – note the black line on the cutting edge of the bill

Southern Royal Albatrosses can be quite similar to Wandering Albatrosses. Their wingspan can be up to 350cm (340cm in Northern) and have a largely white back, just like the Wanderings. In contrast to the latter, however, only very young royals have any black on the tail. The best feature to distinguish between Wanderings and the two royals is the black line on the cutting edge of the bill (see photo below), however be aware of shadow lines on the bill of Wandering Albatrosses.
The best way to separate Northern from Southern Royal Albatross is the leading edge of the wing. In Northern Royals, this is almost always dark, where in Southern Royals it turns white already at young age.

Southern Royal Albatross, note the black line on the cutting edge of the bill

Southern Royal Albatrosses mainly breed on Campbell Island, south of New Zealand. However, outside the breeding season or on foraging trips, they can be seen everywhere in the Southern Ocean. The Northern Royal Albatross mainly breeds on Chatham Island, also south of New Zealand and also roam around the Southern Ocean, but typically a bit further north from the Southern Royal Albatross.

Southern Royal Albatrosses re-establish their pair bond

The breeding cycle of Southern Royal Albatrosses is slightly shorter as that of the Wandering Albatross. They are sexually mature at the age of 6-12 years (which years are largely spent at open ocean) and mate for life. After an elaborate courtship, they produce a single egg in November/December, which is incubated by both parents and hatches in February. Both parents help in the feeding of the chick, where in the beginning one parent has to stay with the chick to protect it from predators and keep it warm. When the chick is larger, both parents can go out on feeding trips that can last several days or maybe weeks. In October the chick fledges. This would mean the parents could start all over again, but most of the time they take a year off before their next breeding attempt.

Southern Royal Albatrosses breeding on Campbell Island

The Southern Royal Albatross is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, with a stable population of around 27.000 adult individuals. Its Northern counterpart is faring less, being listed as endangered, with a decreasing population of 17.000 adult individuals.
Just like the Wandering Albatross, their main threats are (long-line) fisheries and invasive species on their breeding islands.

Southern Royal Albatross with a Southern Giant Petrel – not a small bird itself, this Southern Giant Petrel is dwarfed by the Albatross.

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