Antarctic Birds: Light-mantled Albatross

Back to the Albatrosses, we continue with what many birders consider to be the most pretty of albatrosses: the Light-mantled Albatross, or Light-mantled Sooty Albatross as the name used to be. When you have a good look, it’s clear to see why they say so. With a wingspan of ‘only’ little over 2 meters, it’s one of the smaller albatrosses, but the thin white line behind the eye and over the bill easily make up for that. Overall it has a dark plumage, with a lighter rump (hence the name). It can only really be mistaken for a Sooty Albatross, but the latter has a more northern distribution and is lacking the lighter rump.

Light-mantled Albatross in flight, note the drop of salt water on the bill-tip: their way of excreting excess salt.

Light-mantled Albatrosses breed in loose colonies on grassy slopes of subantarctic islands, like South Georgia. Like the large albatrosses, they breed once every two years. They start with a gorgeous display behaviour where the couple flies synchronously next to each other. After this, they start breeding.

Two Light-mantled Albatrosses behind the ship

Light-mantled Albatrosses are less keen in following ships, so there is one nearby, you have to be quick. Sometimes you get lucky and find a few that like to hang around. I remember a staff meeting being postponed because several guides were standing on the back deck photographing these beauties.

Een Roetkopalbatros in de Drake Passage; A Light-mantled Albatross in the Drake Passage

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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