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Northern Royal Albatross - BirdForum Opus

Revision as of 01:29, 4 March 2024 by Njlarsen (talk | contribs)
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Photo © by Bruce Winslade
Taiaroa Heads, Dunedin, South Island, New Zealand, 14 February 2006
Diomedea sanfordi


Photo © by angletarn
Kaikoura, New Zealand, 13 January 2010
  • Length around 110 cm, wingspan around 3 m
  • Head and body white
  • Scapulars with brown markings
  • Tail white except usually black tips on some feathers
  • Upperside of wing entirely black except for a small white wedge at the base of the leading edge
  • Underside of wing white except for narrow black trailing edge and black wedge on leading edge of primaries
  • Bill pale pinkish with black cutting edge
  • Eyes black
  • Legs pale pinkish

Juvenile very similar, but in first plumage has dark barring on rump, dark spots on crown, and may have pale edges to coverts on upperwing.

Similar Species

Southern Royal Albatross is larger, has a white leading edge to upperwing (narrow in juvenile, getting wider with age) and black on leading edge of underside of primaries is only a narrow line.

The species formerly in Wandering Albatross (Snowy Albatross, Tristan Albatross, Antipodean Albatross, and Amsterdam Albatross) all lack the black cutting edge on the bill.

Adult bird showing the all black wings except for a narrow wedge along the body. Also notice the lack of black markings on rump indicting adult.
Photo © by Leicaman
Taiaroa Heads, Dunedin, South Island, New Zealand, 3 March 2008


Breeding takes place entirely in New Zealand waters; most of the population in the Chatham islands, and small numbers in Auckland Island (where hybridization with Southern Royal Albatross have been registered) and at Taiaroa Heads, Otago Peninsula (by far the easiest place to see them).

Outside of breeding season, they occur circumpolar in the south seas, in areas where the surface temperature is from 6 to 20 degrees C. This takes them to coasts of such areas as Chile, Argentina and Angola, with vagrancy in Brazil!


Formerly considered the same species as Southern Royal Albatross.


This is a monotypic species[1].


Breeds on slopes with access to the sea, often near exposed areas to facilitate getting airborne. The breeding grounds often have tussock grass which give some shelter for the wind.

At sea mostly takes dead or dying prey captured within one meter of the surface. They frequently seek out offal from fishing boats but are not known as great ship followers otherwise.


At sea mostly takes dead or dying prey captured within one meter of the surface. They frequently seek out offal from fishing boats but are not known as great ship followers otherwise.


Breeding takes place every other year, with a single egg laid in October-November. Hatching happens about 2-1/2 month later, and the young stay on land for another about 8 month. Once they leave the nest, they will stay at sea for 3-4 years before visiting the colony, and it will be another about 4 years before they nest for the first time.


Known to give a variety of sounds both at breeding grounds and more rarely when interacting with other birds at sea. Sounds given include bill claps.


  1. Clements, J. F., P. C. Rasmussen, T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, T. A. Fredericks, J. A. Gerbracht, D. Lepage, A. Spencer, S. M. Billerman, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2023. The eBird/Clements checklist of Birds of the World: v2023. Downloaded from https://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Gill, F, D Donsker, and P Rasmussen (Eds). 2023. IOC World Bird List (v 13.2). Doi 10.14344/IOC.ML.13.2. http://www.worldbirdnames.org/
  3. del Hoyo, J., C. Carboneras, F. Jutglar, N. Collar, and G. M. Kirwan (2023). Northern Royal Albatross (Diomedea sanfordi), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (F. Medrano and B. K. Keeney, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.royalb3.01
  4. Jaramillo, A. 2003. Birds of Chile. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton Univ. Press. ISBN 978-0691117409
  5. Pearman, M., J.I. Areta 2021. Birds of Argentina and the South-west Atlantic. Princeton Field Guides, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford. ISBN: 978-0-691-14769-7
  6. Species account at NZ Birds Online

Recommended Citation

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