Black-browed Albatross 

The Black-browed Albatross (Thalassarche melanophris) is also known as a black-browed Mollymawk. These birds are the most common albatross species globally. They were named black-browed due to their dark eye stripes. The scientific name melanophris comes from two Greek words, melanos and orphis, which mean black and eyebrows. 

Black-browed albatross with its chick

Falkland Islands
SeaLion Island
Black-browed albatross with its chick, Falkland Islands

These beautiful birds are migratory sea birds and are well known for their spectacular gliding abilities. In addition, due to their large and robust wings, they can remain airborne for hours gliding in the thermals. An adult albatross can fly at up to 110 km/h.

Both males and females look alike. Their webbed feet are well designed to slow down their speed and work as landing brakes.

Pelagic birds

Black-browed albatrosses are Pelagic birds. Pelagic is another name for a seabird that spends a significant part of its life living in the open oceans apart from when they are breeding. Pelagic birds live hundreds and thousands of kilometres offshore. However, they will often rest and float on the water’s surface while at sea.

Albatross with its chick, Falkland Islands
Albatross with its chick, Falkland Islands
Habitat

Black-browed Albatrosses are solitary birds apart from when they are mating and breeding. They are found in oceans and seas, mainly throughout the Southern Hemisphere. They live in the North Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, Antarctic Peninsula and the Indian Ocean. However, they land mainly in the Southern Hemisphere during the mating and breeding season. For example the Falkland Islands, Antarctic Peninsula, Cape Horn Islands, South Georgia, and the South Sandwich Islands. The Falkland Islands is home to over 70% of the world’s black-browed albatrosses, with around 500,000 pairs. The Falkland Islands are the most critical breeding location globally.  

A pair of black-browed albatross, noting their beautiful eyes, Falkland Islands
A pair of black-browed albatross, noting their beautiful eyes, Falkland Islands.
Details

Size: 80 – 100 cm long

Weight: 3 – 5 kg

Wingspan: 210 – 250cm

Lifespan: 50 – 70 years

Diet

Their main diet consists of krill, fish, jellyfish, octopus, crustaceans and squid. However, they are opportunistic feeders and often steal food from other birds. They are also able to dive down into the ocean to a depth of up to 5 metres.

Black-browed albatross are very good parents

Falkland Islands
Black-browed albatross are excellent parents, Falkland Islands
Breeding and Nesting

The black-browed albatross is ordinarily a solitary bird. However, they gather and live in large nesting colonies during the mating and breeding season – from September to April. They are monogamous and will usually mate with the same bird each year. Female albatrosses will lay a single egg. Both parents will take turns incubating the egg during the 70 day incubation period. Hatchlings are adorable and are covered in soft whitish-grey, fluffy down and have a black bill. The hatchling’s wings will take around four months to develop, to become large enough and strong enough for flight. Once a chick has taken flight, it will return to its breeding colonies after three years. Mating and breeding occur when they are around seven years old.

Young black-browed albatross remains on the. next as it can't fly for around 4 months.  Note the large webbed feet, Falkland Islands
Young black-browed albatross remains on the nest as it can’t ly for around four months. Note the large webbed feet, Falkland Islands.
During breeding season, albatross nests are scattered over the steep hills and rockery
During the breeding season, albatross nests are scattered over the steep hills and rockery.
Mating rituals

It is fascinating to see the black-browed albatross mating ritual. The ritual involves rubbing bills creating a loud clanking sound, additionally also dance around each other. 

Their carefully and intricately made nests are fascinating. The nests are around 50cm high and constructed out of guano, mud, tussock grasses, and seaweed. They build their nests high up on cliffs, steep slopes, and flat coastal grasslands. Albatrosses return to their same nests annually.

A pair of black-browed albatross performing their mating dance, clanking their bills, Falkland Islands
A pair of black-browed albatross performing their mating dance, clattering their bills, Falkland Islands
Threats

Humans (hunting, commercial fishing and trapping), disease, climate change and sharks. Albatross eggs are very vulnerable to skuas, caracaras and rats.

Caracara, a bird of prey, Falkland Islands
Caracara, a bird of prey, Falkland Islands
Skua, a bird of prey, Falkland Islands
Skua, a bird of prey, Falkland Islands
Very comical pose, Falkland Islands
Very comical pose, Falkland Islands
Conservation status

Before 2018, the black-browed albatross was listed as near-threatened, as their population had decreased by around 67% over the previous 60 years. However, in most recent assessments by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the Black-browed albatross was reclassified as Least Concern (LC) as the numbers have been steadily increasing. 

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