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WHAT IS THE ALBATROSS?


TLarge seabird with long narrow wings adapted for gliding and a wingspan of up to 3 m/10 ft, mainly found in the southern hemisphere. Albatrosses feed mainly on squid and fish, and nest on remote oceanic islands. Albatrosses can cover enormous distances, flying as far as 16,100 km/10,000 mi in 33 days, or up to 640 km/600 mi in one day. They continue flying even after dark, at speeds of up to 53.5 kph/50 mph, though they may stop for an hour's rest and to feed during the night.



The method of flight of albatrosses is interesting in that they may maintain gliding flight without flapping their wings for hours on end. To do this they make use of the steady trade winds, and the fact that nearer to the surface of the water the air flows more slowly, reaching full speed much higher up. They dive downwind, turn, and rise up into progressively faster-moving air. The faster the air flows over their wings, the greater the lift; in this way they can reach the heights from which they started without flapping their wings. They do, however, lose ground downwind, so they drift slowly across the ocean with the prevailing winds. The birds seldom come ashore, except at breeding time.














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Albatrosses are largely monogamous, returning to mate with the same partner at the same breeding site for a full lifespan, up to 20 years. They can spend up to a year rearing their young. The grey-headed albatross D. chrysostoma, for example, which breeds on islands such as South Georgia, takes 70 days to incubate the single egg; the male and female take turns on the egg, while the other parent collects food. The lack of readily available food means that 50% of the chicks will starve. The chick does not leave the nest for a further 141 days; for this reason the grey-headed albatross only breeds every other year. It is often found sharing a breeding ground with the black-browed albatross D. melanophris, which has a much shorter breeding cycle, enabling breeding every year.

 

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