Albatross is one of the largest representatives of birds on our planet – perhaps the most romantic sea bird in the wild. The albatross has long been considered a good omen. Sailors see a good sign in the appearance of these birds next to the ship, and some believe that albatrosses are the souls of dead sailors.
People believe that if you harm an albatross, let alone kill it, such a crime will not go unpunished, sooner or later you will have to pay for it. And the albatrosses themselves have been leading their measured lifestyle for many millions of years, not showing aggression to the environment and to humans.
Origin of the species and description
The World Classification of Wild Animals classifies albatrosses as petrels, a family of seabirds. Archaeologists believe that this species is very ancient. Judging by the remains found, the distant ancestors of albatrosses inhabited the Earth 20-35 million years ago. Also known are close relatives of petrels, whose fossils are estimated by scientists to be 70 million years old.
Numerous studies of the remains at the molecular level indicate the presence of a single ancient bird species, from which albatrosses subsequently detached. Albatross fossils are more common in the northern hemisphere than in the southern. In addition, various forms have been found in places where modern albatrosses do not live – for example, in the North Atlantic Ocean, on one of the Bermuda Islands and in North Carolina (USA).
Albatross is the largest sea bird with characteristic features. It is known that albatrosses can not appear on land for a long time, sometimes for several months, being all the time above the water surface. They are extremely hardy, capable of very long flights. The structure of their wings and the anatomy of the body are adapted for gliding in the air due to low-energy air currents.
The albatross can soar above the sea surface for several days without ever flapping its wings.
This ability is inherent in albatrosses due to the presence of large and strong wings, the span of which in some individuals reaches 3.7 meters. The main energy consumption falls on take-off and hunting, the rest of the time the birds practically do not expend energy, being in free soaring or staying on the surface of the water.
Albatrosses form stable pairs that do not break up until the end of the life of one of them. Choosing a partner for several years, they create a strong family capable of reproducing offspring at least once every two years. They are equal partners and caring parents. Both the female and the male incubate the eggs, feed, educate and protect the chicks.
It takes about a year from the moment the eggs are laid to the first flight of the young albatross. By this time, the chicks are fully trained by their parents for independent living. They often fly out of their nest and never return.
Appearance and features
Experts distinguish 22 species of albatrosses. Among them there are quite small representatives – no larger than an ordinary seagull, but there are real giants with a wingspan of more than 3.5 meters. Small albatrosses, as a rule, have darker plumage, smoky and brown tones, large ones are pure white or with dark spots around the head or wings. The plumage of albatrosses is close to the body, under the feathers there is a light and warm fluff, reminiscent of a swan in its structure.
The plumage of young albatrosses differs significantly from that of mature individuals. It takes several years for the young to acquire adult coloration.
Albatrosses have a large and strong beak, the upper part of which is bent down. On both sides, in the horny part of the upper beak, two nasal passages in the form of tubes are symmetrically located. This structure provides the birds with an excellent sense of smell and the ability to find prey by smell. In addition, thanks to this feature, the detachment has another name – tube-nosed.
The paws of the albatross are strong, it moves well and quite confidently on land. The three front toes are connected by webs, which helps him swim well. The main feature of albatrosses is their unique wings. They are designed in such a way as to provide birds with the opportunity to travel long distances and plan for a long time in the air. The wings are rigid, thickened in front and narrow in length.
The albatross stays close to the surface of the water, using ascending air currents. In flight, oncoming air masses and wind are responsible for the direction and speed of movement. All these techniques allow the albatross to significantly save their own energy and strength. The only time an albatross flaps its wings is when it takes off to get off the surface and gain the desired height.
Where does the albatross live?
The habitat of most of the albatross colonies is mainly the icy waters of Antarctica and, in general, the entire Southern Hemisphere. There they are distributed throughout the territory. Migratory albatrosses can also be found in the Northern Hemisphere. True, they do not move into the coldest parts of it, remaining in the more familiar climate of temperate latitudes.
But for some species of albatrosses, the northern coast of the Pacific Ocean is a permanent habitat. These are some representatives of the genus Phoebastria, who have chosen for their colonies the territory from Alaska and Japan up to the Hawaiian Islands.
And a completely unique species – the Galapagos albatross – the only one that nests on the Galapagos Islands. Due to the lack of wind flows necessary for planning, the calm zone of the equator is not able to cross the majority of birds that have a weak ability for active fly flight. The Galapagos albatross, on the other hand, uses the winds caused by the cold Humboldt ocean current, and thanks to this, it has the opportunity to feed where its other relatives simply cannot reach.
Ornithologists closely monitor the movements of albatrosses over the oceans. They do not make seasonal flights, but as soon as the breeding season ends, their range disperses, sometimes they even make circumpolar flights around the world, although the latter applies exclusively to the southern species of birds.
What does the albatross eat?
For a long time it was thought that albatrosses feed exclusively at the surface of the ocean, swimming and snatching squid, fish and other food from the water, taken out by the currents or left after the meal of marine predators. Experiments with the introduction of capillary echo sounders into the body of birds made it possible to obtain data on their ability to hunt at depth.
Moreover, some species do not dive deeper than a meter from the surface of the water for prey, while others – for example, the sooty albatross – are able to dive to a depth of 5 meters or more. Moreover, cases of their immersion even deeper are known – up to 12 meters. Albatrosses hunt both from water and from the air.
Their main diet is medium-sized marine life:
- various types of fish;
It is noticed that different bird populations have different taste preferences. The diet of some is dominated by fish, while others feed mainly on squid. Feeding behavior is reflected in the choice of habitat for the colony. Albatrosses prefer to settle where the ocean is richest in their favorite food.
Research by ornithologists has shown that carrion may be present on the menu of some albatrosses, such as the wandering albatross. Perhaps these are the dregs of fishing, the remnants of the meal of sperm whales, or marine life that died during spawning. However, most birds prefer exclusively live food.
Character and lifestyle features
Albatrosses are characterized by a herd lifestyle, they live in colonies. Most often, the colony occupies a separate island, which is chosen in terms of the best access to the sea from all sides. There they create pairs, build nests and breed offspring.
For living, they choose the territories of the World Ocean, where squid and krill are kept in sufficient quantities, which serve as their main source of food. If food becomes scarce, albatrosses are removed from their nests and set off in search of more favorable living conditions.
To find food, these birds are able to travel considerable distances. They hunt mainly during the day and sleep at night. Moreover, it was previously believed that albatrosses sleep right in flight, while the left and right hemispheres of the brain are switched off alternately for rest. Now it is known that they sleep mainly on the water. Sleep is short, they need only two to three hours to rest and recuperate.
The ability to soar in the air with low energy expenditure is so developed in the albatross that the frequency of its heartbeat in such a flight is close to the heart rate at rest.
Albatrosses, despite their impressive size and large sharp beak, do not show aggressiveness in the wild. All they care about is finding food and reproducing offspring. They are patient and caring parents and good protectors of their fellows in case of danger.
Social structure and reproduction
Albatross populations have a fairly distinct social structure. Adults are engaged in raising young animals. Moreover, even when the chicks have already left the parental nest, they need a behavioral example from more mature birds and get it by adjoining stable colonies, adopting the skills and habits of communicating with fellow tribesmen and with individuals of the opposite sex.
Albatrosses live quite a long time for birds – about 50 years, sometimes more. Puberty also occurs quite late, around the age of 5 years. But even then, as a rule, they still do not enter the active phase of reproduction, but do it much later, by 7-10 years.
Young individuals choose a mate for several years. Being in the colony during the breeding season, they learn the specifics and features of courtship games, the main element of which is the courtship dance. This is a series of coordinated movements and sounds – beak clicking, plumage cleaning, looking around, singing, etc. It takes a lot of time for young animals to master all the tricks and skills of attracting individuals of the opposite sex.
The male, as a rule, tries to impress several females at once, and does this until one of them reciprocates. When the couple is finally formed, we can assume that a real bird family has appeared, the partners in which will remain faithful to each other to the end. Change of partner in albatrosses is extremely rare, the cause is usually multiple unsuccessful attempts to have offspring.
The newly created couple develops their own body language, which only two understand. They build a nest where the female lays only one egg. But they incubate it, protect it from enemies, and then both parents take care of the hatched chick.
Albatrosses often make nests where they hatched themselves.
To find food for the chick, the albatross is able to fly up to 1000 miles. Given such distances, the feathered parent cannot always bring fresh food to the nest, so for the sake of safety, he swallows it. Under the action of stomach enzymes, food is converted into a nutritious protein mass, which the albatross regurgitates into the chick's beak.
The process of rearing offspring in albatrosses lasts about a year. Only after this time has elapsed, matured and strengthened chicks take to the wings and leave their parental nests. As a rule, they do not return. And after a year or two, the parents are ready for the birth of a new offspring. This process continues until the female is of reproductive age.
Natural enemies of albatrosses
In the place that the albatross colony chooses for nesting, as a rule, there are no terrestrial predators. This historically established trend did not allow the development of active defensive reflexes in birds. Therefore, animals introduced by humans, such as rats or feral cats, pose a great threat to them. They attack adult birds and destroy their nests, eating eggs and small chicks.
It is known that these large birds can also suffer from very small rodents – mice, which are also not averse to hunting for easy prey in the form of albatross eggs. Mice, cats, rats spread and multiply in territories unusual for them at high speed. They need food, so albatrosses that are not ready for such a danger fall into the risk zone.
But not only land rodents pose a threat to albatrosses. They also have enemies in the water. Sharks that live in coastal areas where birds nest attack adults, and even more often young ones. Sometimes albatrosses get to lunch and other large marine animals. There are cases when a skeleton of an albatross was found in the stomach of a sperm whale. It was swallowed, most likely by accident, along with other food, since birds are not included in the usual sperm whale menu at all.
Population and species status
Paradoxically, albatrosses, which have very few enemies in the wild, are endangered. One way or another, this happens through the fault of man.
In ancient times, active hunting for the albatross led to the absolute disappearance of populations in some areas. This is what happened to bird nests on Easter Island. They were destroyed by ancient Polynesian hunters who killed birds for meat. To date, the albatross population on Easter Island has not recovered.
With the beginning of the development of navigation in Europe, they also opened the hunt for the albatross. Birds were ruthlessly destroyed in huge numbers not only because of delicious meat, but also for fun, arranging sports competitions, or simply catching them for bait.
And in the 19th century, the extermination of the white-backed albatross nesting near the northern coast Pacific Ocean. Birds were killed for the sake of beautiful plumage, which was used to make ladies' hats. As a result of these actions, the population almost disappeared from the face of the Earth.
Currently, out of 22 two species of albatrosses, 2 species are on the verge of extinction, the status of another six species is recognized as dangerous, and five as vulnerable. One of the serious threats to bird populations is the development of longline fishing. The birds are attracted by the smell of the bait, they swallow it along with the hooks, from which they can no longer free themselves. Together with pirate fishing, longline fishing causes damage to the albatross population, amounting to about 100 thousand individuals per code.
To prevent a critical decline in the number of albatross populations in the wild, scientists and public environmental organizations around the world are developing comprehensive protective measures. They work in conjunction with fishing companies and national governments.
Preventive measures are used to reduce the mortality rate of birds in longline fishing:
- bird scarers;
- weighting wood;
- fishing at great depths;
- fishing at night.
These events are already showing a positive trend. But the goal of scientists is to restore the original natural balance in the habitats of albatrosses. To do this, they are working on the process of removing alien animals from the islands.
Speaking of conservation activities in relation to albatrosses, one cannot fail to mention a very important step – the signing in 2004 of the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels. It obliges the parties to organize measures to reduce the percentage of bird deaths during fishing, to clean up albatross habitats from introduced species of animals and to reduce environmental pollution.
Great hopes are placed on this document in conservation albatross populations in the wild.
The albatross is an amazing creature. Nature endowed them with unique abilities, strength and endurance. Who knows, maybe these beautiful and proud seabirds really bring good luck. One thing is certain – they need our protection and our patronage. And we must provide them if we want to preserve the presence of these amazing birds in the wild for our descendants.