Royal Albatross

Diomedea epomophora

Length: 107-122 cm
Wingspan: 305-351

Distribution: Breeds only in New Zealand but circles the globe during first years of life.

Food: Cephalopods, fish, crustaceans.

Voice: Harsh croaking and braying.

Breeding: One egg. Shared incubation for 79 days. Fledging 220-250 days. Pairs for life.

Very similar in size to the Wandering Albatross but does not have the dark juvenile stage of the Wanderer. Adults always have a completely white tail and are never marked about the head, neck and body. The dark cutting edge to the upper mandible is diagnostic. In flight, Royals can seem more hunched than Wanderers. Royal Albatrosses are divided into two subspecies, with the northern form always having completely black upperwings. For a detailed description of the various stages of plumage from juvenile to adult of both albatrosses, a useful book to consult is Volume One, Part A of the Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds.

The Northern Royal Albatross breeds at the Chatham Islands and Taiaroa Head and the Southern Royal at Campbell Island and Auckland Island. Males usually return before females.
One egg is laid which is incubated for about 79 days with both adults sharing duties. When the chick hatches it is brooded and guarded for about 40 days. Fledging occurs after 220-250 days. Chicks are usually fed fish, but as they get older they receive more cephalopods.
Having fledged, the Campbell Island chicks appear to travel quite quickly to Chilean waters, although some stay near New Zealand. From Chile they move to the South West Atlantic Ocean off Argentina apparently staying there for a few years. Some recoveries in Indian Ocean waters would indicate birds return to New Zealand in an easterly direction thus having circled the globe. The youngest arrivals are only four years old but most birds do not breed until they are nine or ten years old. If a chick is successfully raised or if a chick is lost after the guarding stage the adults breed only every two years. If an egg is lost or a chick dies before the guard stage is completed the birds return to breed the following year. They mate for life.