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White-capped Albatross - BirdForum Opus

(Redirected from Shy Albatross)
Photo © by jonlowes
At sea off The Cape, South Africa, 31 October 2009

Alternative names: Shy Mollymawk; Shy Albatross

Thalassarche cauta


Length 90–100 cm (35½-39½ in). Wingspan 198-256cm.
Adult: Brownish-black on back, tail and upperwings, palest on mantle. Rump, neck, and underparts white. Head has distinctly capped appearance with white forehead and dark eyebrow above grey cheeks. Underwing white with very narrow dark margins and dark 'thumbmark' at base of leading edge. Iris dark brown, bill yellowish-grey with brighter yellow tip and legs pinkish with bluish joints.
Immature: as adult but has dull grey, black-tipped bill and greyer head and hindneck. At all ages dark 'thumbmark' indicates a member of the cauta group.

Photo © by Derekh42
Southern Ocean, 03 December 2003


The Tasmanian Shy/White-capped Albatross (T. c. cauta) breeds on Albatross Rock in Bass Strait and the Mewstone and Pedra Branca off south Tasmania. Disperses to seas off southern Australia and present all year off Tasmania, Victoria and southern New South Wales, less commmonly west to Fremantle and north to northern Queensland.

The Auckland White-capped Albatross (T. c. steadi) breeds only on the Auckland and Antipodes islands of New Zealand. Many of these subspecies disperse further than the Tasmanian Shy Albatross and can occur throughout the Southern Oceans north to about 25 degrees south occurring on both coasts of South America and off South Africa.

Has occurred as vagrant on the northern hemisphere.


Photo © by Fritz73
35 miles SE of Mar del Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 29 July 2005

Salvin's Albatross and Chatham Albatross have long been considered subspecies of this species.

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).


There are 2 subspecies[1]:

  • T. c. cauta (Shy):
  • T. c. steadi (White-capped):
  • Breeds Auckland Islands


Present at breeding sites April-August, otherwise at sea and often follows ships.


Photo © by Tiger1
Stewart island, New Zealand, February 2015


Begins late September-early October. Nest is a large bowl made of mud, excreta, vegetable matter and feathers. Single egg, white marked with red-brown at larger end (106 x 67mm). Incubated by both parents for about 55-60 days and young fed by both parents. Fledges after 5 months.


Squid and fish, sometimes refuse from ships.


Cackling and bill-clattering on breeding grounds.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2018. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2018. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Pizzey, G. & Knight, F. 1997. Birds of Australia (Collins Field Guide). HarperCollins Publishers, London. ISBN 0-00-220132-1
  3. Alvaro Jaramillo. 2003. Birds of Chile. Princeton Field Guides. ISBN 0-691-11740-3
  4. Carboneras, C., Jutglar, F. & Kirwan, G.M. (2017). Shy Albatross (Thalassarche cauta). 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/52507 on 6 February 2017).
  5. del Hoyo, J., Collar, N. & Kirwan, G.M. (2017). White-capped Albatross (Thalassarche steadi). 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/467266 on 6 February 2017).
  6. 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.
  7. Sagar, P.M. 2013 [updated 2016]. White-capped mollymawk. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. http://www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz
  8. 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

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