USFWS
Fisheries & Ecological Services
Alaska Region   

 

Life History

The short-tailed albatross, like albatrosses in general, are slow to reach maturity, live a long time, have high adult survival, and have few offspring.  Females lay a maximum of one egg each year, sometimes skipping a year , and both the male and female incubate the egg  for ~2 months) and feed the chick for ~5 months.  It is common for adult short tails to take a year off from breeding – about 1 in 4 adults skips breeding in each year.  Once short tailed albatrosses fledge from their nesting colony, they will travel the North Pacific for five or more years before returning to breed for the first time. This time is likely needed for birds to gain the foraging skills needed to raise young successfully. Even once they begin breeding, their plumage continues to mature for another five to six years before they achieve the full adult plumage. The photos below show a juvenile short-tailed albatross, a sub-adult with intermediate plumage, and an adult that has begun to achieve the gold wash on its head and neck.

Short-tailed albatross.  Photo Credit: Rob Suryan Short-tailed albatross.  Photo Credit: Rob Suryan Short-tailed albatross.  Photo Credit: Rob Suryan

Short-tails also live a long time, 40-50 years and possibly longer.  The high adult survival of short-tailed albatrosses contributes to this long lifespan. Less than 10% of the adult short-tailed albatrosses succumb to predators, starvation and other sources of mortality in any given year.

Since these birds are slow to reproduce and live a long time, their populations are particularly vulnerable to threats that impact adult birds.  Anything that decreases adult survival can have a major impact on the overall population.


Short-tailed albatrosses begin laying eggs in late October to late November.  The birds will not re-lay if the egg is destroyed

The pair alternates incubation shifts, while the other is out foraging for weeks at a time.  Incubation lasts 64 to 65 days.

Adults take turns going to sea to search for food to give to their chick.

When chicks are young they are fed rich stomach oil, and then squid, fish, and flying fish eggs as they get older.

Once chicks can regulate their body temperature, both adults leave the colony to forage simultaneously.  These chicks that are left alone on the colony are at the post-guard stage.

By late May to early June the chicks are nearly fully grown, and the adults begin to leave the colony.  The chicks will follow their parents out to sea independently, and by mid-July the colony is empty.

 

 

Although their breeding season is about 8 months long, these birds spend the vast majority of their time at sea.  Even during the breeding season, the birds are travelling to sea to feed themselves and get food for their chick.  Chicks are attended by at least one parent for a few weeks, until chicks can thermoregulate.  Then both parents make foraging trips away from the colony. While some albatrosses spend weeks away from their nests to look for food, short-tailed albatrosses foraging trips are generally just a few days.

Relevant Literature:
Hasegawa, H. 1982. The breeding status of the short-tailed albatross, Diomedea albatrus, on Torishima, 1979/80 1980/81. Journal of the Yamashina Institute of Ornithology 14:16-24.

Hasegawa, H. and A. R. DeGange. 1982. The Short-tailed Albatross, Diomedea albatrus, its status, distribution and natural history. American Birds 36:806-814.

Tickell, W. L. N. 2000. Albatrosses. Yale University Press.

 

 

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