Physical characteristics Albatrosses -

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Physical characteristics Albatrosses

Birds > Group of birds > Albatrosses

The great albatrosses (Diomedea) are the largest, with wingspans that can exceed 9.8 ft (300 cm). They lack a dark back except as juveniles. All have a white underwing. The upper wing of the northern royal albatross (D. epomophora sanfordi) is always black, while that of the wandering albatross (D. exulans) and the southern royal albatross (D. epomophora) grow increasingly white with age, especially among males.
When Antipodean (D. antipodensis) and Amsterdam albatrosses (D. amsterdamensis) breed, especially females, they are almost as dark as in as juveniles. In the wandering royal albatross (D. exulans), Tristan albatross (D. dabbenena) and Gibson’s albatross (D. gibsoni), body plumage whitens with age, and females may retain dark markings on the chest, flank, and back. Otherwise the body is chiefly white in the royal and northern royal albatrosses. The long (5.5–7.5 in; 140–190 mm) pale, horn-colored bill has a distinctively hooked tip, and it flushes pink in adults rearing chicks.


The Northern Pacific albatrosses include four medium to small taxa with wingspans of 6.2–7.9 ft (190–240 cm), and all have short, black tails. The two largest, i.e. the short-tailed albatross (D. albatrus) and the waved albatross (D. irrorata), have distinctive yellow/golden plumage on the head and nape. Of the two smallest, the Laysan albatross (D. immutabilis) has a pinkish bill, white body, and dark upper wing, while the black-footed albatross (D. nigripes) has a black bill and is mainly dark brown, except for a white patch at the rump and a variably pale face.

The mollymawks, which include 11 small to medium size taxa, are the most diverse group of albatrosses with wingspans of 5.9–8.4 ft (180–256 cm). All have black upper wings and back, variable amounts of black on the underwing, and white body. All have a variable gray eyebrow with heads and necks varying from mainly white to dark gray, some with pronounced paler cap.
The shy albatross, white-capped albatross, Salvin’s, and Chatham mollymawk (D. cauta, D. cauta cauta, D. salviniand D. cauta eremita) all have chiefly white underwings, while all others have variable amounts of black reaching into the underwing from the leading edge. All mollymawks have distinctive bill structures and colors which, when combined with head color, help identification. The black-browed mollymawk (D. melanophris) and the Campbell black-browed mollymawk (D. impavida) have golden yellow bills with pink tips.

Black-browed albatrosses

The gray-headed mollymawk (D. chrysostoma) has a dark gray head and bill, with a yellow culmen and pink nail, yellow lower mandible stripe and black intervening sides to the bill. Buller’s mollymawk (D. bulleri) and the Pacific mollymawk (D. platei) have similar bills without the pink nail and have gray, with paler-capped, heads. The smallest mollymawks (D. chlororhynchos) have a gray washed head, and the eastern yellow-nosed mollymawk (D. bassi) has a chiefly white head. Both taxa have bills with a yellow culmen stripe and pink nail. All mollymawks have a colorful pink/orange fleshy facial stripe from gape to ear which is exposed during displays.

The two sooty albatrosses (Phoebetria), with a wing span of 6.0–7.15 ft (183–218 cm), and the longest and most pointed tails of all albatross taxa, have mainly dark bills, plumage, and legs. However, the light-mantled sooty albatross (P. palpebrata), normally has a paler brown mantle than the darkmantled sooty albatross (P. fusca).

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