Diomedeidae – Albatrosses

Known for their huge size; the Wandering albatross has the largest wingspan of all birds of 3.5 m (11.5 ft)

More commonly known as albatrosses, these are among the most storied and fascinating sea birds, with a mythology encompassing centuries of maritime lore. These majestic birds are known for their extraordinary wingspan, which is the largest of any bird, allowing them to soar vast distances across the oceans with minimal effort.

Albatrosses are known for their dynamic life cycle, especially regarding the changes in their plumage as they age. Young albatrosses are often darker and gradually lighten as they reach maturity. The adult plumage pattern varies across different species, ranging from the almost entirely white wandering albatross to the predominantly dark sooty albatross. However, the flight feathers are typically darker, which may help absorb solar radiation and could play a role in thermoregulation during flight over cold waters.

Albatrosses are marvels of aerodynamics. They have a specialized tendon in the shoulder that can lock the wing in place, allowing them to maintain wing extension without muscular effort. This adaptation is critical for their long-distance flights. Remarkably, albatrosses are more energy-efficient while flying than sitting on the water, as the dynamic soaring technique they use harnesses the wind’s energy, allowing them to travel thousands of miles without rest.

Their large wingspan and relatively low wing loading mean they need considerable air moving over their wings to generate lift. This is why they often prefer to nest on elevated cliffs where the wind is stronger and more consistent. Once airborne, albatrosses can travel enormous distances, with some species routinely circumnavigating the globe.

Albatrosses spend most of their lives at sea, coming to land only to breed and rear their young. They are highly adapted to the marine environment with salt glands that help to excrete the excess salt they ingest by drinking seawater and feeding on marine organisms.