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Buller's Albatross - BirdForum Opus

Photo © by Two Jugs
Foveaux Strait, off Stewart Island, Southland, New Zealand, 14 February 2014

Alternative name: Buller's Mollymawk

Thalassarche bulleri

Diomedea bulleri Includes Pacific Albatross


Photo © by martinuk
Foveaux Strait, off Stewart Island, Southland, New Zealand, 22 January 2010

A small mollymawk: Length 76-81cm. Wingspan 205-213cm.
Adult: back and upperwing brownish-black, rump white and tail greyish-black, underparts white. Head grey with contrasting white forehead and dark eyebrow. Underwing white with dark tip, broad dark leading edge and narrow dark trailing edge. Iris dark brown, bill black with yellow culminicorn and ramicorn, legs pinkish blue.
Immature: juvenile as adult but bill pale brownish-horn with darker tip and darker brownish-grey head. Culminicorn and ramicorn become yellower with age and head becomes greyer.

Similar Species

  • Distinguished from Grey-headed Albatross by narrower dark leading edge to underwing and whiter forehead.
  • Distinguished from Salvin's Albatross by smaller size, greyer head, bill colour and different underwing pattern.


Breeds in the New Zealand sector on the Sisters and Forty-fours in the Chatham Islands and on the Snares Islands, Solander and Three Kings Islands. Post-breeding dispersal to seas off southern and south-eastern Australia and Tasmania, and across South Pacific to seas off Peru and Chile, rarely north of about 30°S.

Showing diagnostic underwing
Photo © by Tim Bawdin
Port Fairy Pelagic, June 2006



Most authorities recognize two subspecies[1],[2]:

  • Thalassarche bulleri bulleri (Southern): Solander and Snares Islands, breeding December to August and disperses towards Australia.
  • Thalassarche bulleri platei (Northern): Chatham Islands breeding two-three months earlier and moving towards South America.

The type of T. b. platei (Reichenow, 1898) appears to actually be an immature T. b. bulleri leaving the Northern Buller's without an acceptable scientific name. Based on genetics it has been further argued that Northern Buller's may deserve recognition as an unnamed species which Shirihai (2007) provisionally calls the "Pacific Albatross." It differs from nominate "Southern" Buller's by its darker head with smaller better defined white forehead and reduced yellow on its lower mandible.

Diomedea vs. Thalassarche

Genera Phoebastria and Thalassarche formerly placed in the Diomedea, but now considered by virtually all authorities (Clements, Howard & Moore, AOU, BOU, SACC) to be separate genera in light of Nunn et al. (1996) and Penhallurick & Wink (2004).


Breeds on islands, otherwise at sea.



Feeds on squid, cuttlefish, crustaceans and fish, sometimes refuse from ships.


Breeding season on the Chatham Islands October-November with young fledging in April-May, on Solander and Snares Islands lays February with young fledging in August.


Sheep-like bleating call at nest, grunting, coughing and cackling calls when competing for food at sea.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, J. A. Gerbracht, D. Lepage, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2021. The eBird/Clements checklist of Birds of the World: v2021. Downloaded from https://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Avibase
  3. Carboneras, C., Jutglar, F. & Kirwan, G.M. (2017). Buller's Albatross (Thalassarche bulleri). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from http://www.hbw.com/node/52506 on 4 February 2017).
  4. Robertson, C.J.R. & Nunn, G.B. (1998) Towards a new taxonomy for albatrosses. Pp. 13–19 in: Robertson, G. & Gales, R. eds. (1998). The Albatross, Biology and Conservation. Surrey Beatty & Sons, Chipping Norton, UK.
  5. Sagar, P.M. 2013. Buller’s mollymawk. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. http://www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz
  6. Shirihai, H. 2008. Complete Guide to Antarctic Wildlife: Birds and Marine Mammals of the Antarctic Continent and the Southern Ocean. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton Univ. Press. ISBN 978-0691136660

Recommended Citation

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