Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office
Pacific Region

Short-tailed Albatross / Phoebastria albatrus

Photo of 2 short-tailed albatross The largest of the north Pacific albatrosses, the adult short-tailed albatross has a prominent pink bill, white-body, and a yellow wash on the head. Immature birds are dark, but can be distinguished from black-footed albatross by their pink bill and flesh colored feet. Adults can reach wingspans of 2.20 m (7 feet).
Short-tailed albatross - Photo credit John Klavitter/USFWS

Habitat & Behavior:
The largest remaining breeding colony of short-tailed albatross is located on Torishima Island, a volcanic island peak south of Japan. A small number of birds breed on the uninhabited island of Minami-kojima, just north of Taiwan. Short-tailed albatross travel the north Pacific as far as the Bering Sea after the breeding season. The only terrestrial area within U.S. jurisdiction that is currently used by the short-tailed albatross for attempted nesting is Midway Atoll.

Returning to their breeding sites around October, short-tailed albatross on Torishima Island build their nests on relatively steep but open slopes. Like many other seabirds, only one egg is laid per pair, and both sexes share responsibility for incubating the egg and feeding the young. Their diet consists of flying fish eggs, shrimp, squid, and crustaceans; and feed primarily during daybreak and twilight hours. They have been known to forage as far as 3,200 km (1,988 miles) from their breeding grounds.

Past & Present:
Once abundant in the north Pacific Ocean, the short-tailed albatross was nearly driven to extinction due to feather hunters in the late nineteenth century. Over 5 million adults were hunted and killed. In 1939, their breeding grounds in Torishima were buried under 10-30 meters of lava as a result of a volcanic eruption. Population numbers dropped to approximately 10 nesting pairs.

Conservation Efforts:
Because juvenile birds remain at sea for up to ten years before nesting; for many years the short-tailed albatross was thought to be extinct. However, juveniles have returned to nest on Torishima Island and the island is now protected and the albatross population is slowly increasing. As of January 2008, about 2,200 short-tailed albatross remain in the world.

Due to their extremely small population size and very restricted breeding distribution, short-tailed albatross are quite vulnerable to any threats. The island is an active volcano that can erupt at any time, killing birds and destroying their nesting habitat. Heavy rain and even typhoons can be a threat to breeding birds, and can erode the volcanic ash slopes of the colony sites.

Last updated: September 20, 2012
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