The Royal Albatross

What a magnificent bird this is! We regularly see this regal beauty when cruising in Doubtful Sound much to the amazement and awe of our clients.

Mollymawk on water This endangered species is a delight to see with their lovely black and white plumage (the black distinguishing them from the Southern Royal Albatross that has more white on the top of their wings) together with their enormous wing-span that can reach to just over 3 metres and that that splendour is demonstrated when in full flight when they choose to follow our boat.

The albatross or ‘Toroa’ generally eats fish, squid, cephalopods, crustaceans and salps however, squid generally equates up to as much as 85% of their diet (1) in fact, but that still doesn’t stop them from sometimes eating whatever scraps of fresh fish we have caught to thrown to them from the back of the boat! (2)

Size-wise the northern royal albatross is typically about 115 cm tall (which makes them look a little awkward when walking on land!) and weighs anywhere between 6.2 to 8.2 kg with it’s wingspan ranging anywhere between 2.7m and just over 3m. (1)

They also tend to live a good life span as well, typically around 40 years and is typically known as one of the longest lived birds on the planet, in fact one Royal Albatross at Taiaroa here in New Zealand fondly referred to as ‘Grandma’ raised her last chick at the age of 62! (5)

The biggest danger to the Royal Albatross/’Torora’, as referred to in New Zealand, are to their chicks and eggs whilst breeding on the South Island being preyed upon by introduced species, such as cats, bottle flies, and stoats. (1)

Other dangers are long-line fishing, drift-netting and trawling as albatrosses discover that fishing vessels offer an easy food source and follow boats to feed on fish bait and discards but sadly can get caught up in the nets themselves. (5)

These beautiful majestic birds live most of their lives at sea returning to land only to breed and raise their young which they start doing around 6 –10 years old, each pair raising one chick every two years. (5)

Albatross flying So after flirting in a group display on air and land to show off their wing span, throwing their heads back and screaming raucously to show off to ladies (5) partner selection is then made and the male make’s a nest generally on a flat grassy area, forming a mound made out of vegetation, mud and feathers on which to brood.

In October/November they typically lay a single egg that they take turns of around 8 days each incubating the egg for a period of around 80 days in total, making it one of the longest periods for birds worldwide. (1) (5)

When the chick has hatched, the parents take turns protecting and feeding it for 5-6 weeks and then they are left alone except to feed them.

When the chick fledges at 8 months the parents fly off into the distance (as far as South America!) until they return in one year to breed once again completing a two-year cycle.

When they the young chick takes flight they too head to South America to feed in the waters there they will stay for several years and when they hit adolescence (between 3 – 8 years) they will then search for a mate and start the breeding cycle. (5)

And finally the albatross has been historically been known to sailors as bad luck if they were to kill one as referenced in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's well-known poem ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, the narrator killed the bird and his fellow sailors eventually forced him to wear the dead bird around his neck. (1) And on another note some of the Taranaki Maori wore albatross feathers to signify loyalty. (5)

If you would like to ever see one of these truly magnificent albatross birds, join us on one of our overnight cruises – we often see them following the boat. Click here to find out more.