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Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

The short-tailed albatross arrives at its colonial nesting sites in large numbers in mid October (5). Each pair returns to the same nest as in previous years, where they court using vocalisations and displays. The nests are lined with grass and a single, large egg is incubated by both sexes for 65 days, alternating shifts whilst the other member of the pair forages to feed them both (3). The chick hatches between January and February (5) and is guarded and fed regurgitated food from both parents (3). The chick fledges between May and June and reaches sexual maturity at four years. It will not nest until six years, by which time it will have established a life-long pair bond. Successful breeders will leave the breeding grounds in May and June, but failed breeders and non-breeders leave before the new chicks have hatched (5). Feeding mainly at night due to its diet of squid, the short-tailed albatross may also eat fish and crustaceans. It is often seen feeding behind fishing vessels, picking waste from the surface (5).
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Description

Named for its short, white tail with a black bar at the end, this seabird begins life with blackish brown feathers and pale pinkish-yellow legs. As it matures, the feathers turn white, leaving only black edges to the wings and a hint of dull orange on the crown and nape (2). The feet of adults are pale blue (3) and the bill is large and pink, gaining a blue tip with age (2).
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Distribution

Range Description

Phoebastria albatrus breeds on Torishima (Japan), and Minami-kojima (Senkaku Islands), that are claimed jointly by Japan andChina. Historically there are believed to have been at least nine colonies south of Japan and in the East China Sea (Piatt et al. 2006). Its marine range covers most of the northern Pacific Ocean, but it occurs in highest densities in areas of upwelling along shelf waters of the Pacific Rim, particularly along the coasts of Japan, eastern Russia, the Aleutians and Alaska (Piatt et al. 2006, Suryan et al. 2007). During breeding (December - May) it is found in highest densities around Japan. Satellite tracking has indicated that during the post-breeding period, females spend more time offshore of Japan and Russia, while males and juveniles spend greater time around the Aleutian Islands, Bering Sea and off the coast of North America (Suryan et al. 2007). Juveniles have been shown to travel twice the distances per day and spend more time within continental shelf habitat than adult birds (Suryan et al. 2008). The species declined dramatically during the 19th and 20th centuries owing to exploitation for feathers, and was believed extinct in 1949, but was rediscovered in 1951. The current population is estimated, via direct counts and modelling based on productivity data, to be 2,364 individuals, with 1,922 birds on Torishima and 442 birds on Minami-kojima (G.R. Balogh in litt. 2008). In 1954, 25 birds (including at least six pairs) were present on Torishima. Given that there are now c.426 breeding pairs on Torishima (G.R. Balogh in litt. 2008), the species has undergone an enormous increase since its rediscovery and the onset of conservation efforts. In addition, in 2010, one nesting pair was observed on Kure Atoll (Hawaii, USA), but was probably female-female and unsuccessful, and one chick was produced on Midway Atoll (M. Naughton pers. comm. 2011). A tsunami which hit Midway Atoll in March 2011, did not impact on the single pair nesting on Eastern Island (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service 2008).

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Occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations, but breeds in a single state or province

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Non-breeding

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Transient

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Global Range: (<100 square km (less than about 40 square miles)) Nesting is restricted to two small island groups, roughly 1,500 kilometers apart: Torishima Island (Izu Islands) is approximately 580 kilometers south of Japan; and Minami-kojima (Senkaku Islands of the southwestern Ryukyu Islands) is about 270 kilometers northeast of Taiwan (NMFS 1989). On Midway Island, in the Hawaiian Islands, birds have been observed during the breeding season (Hasegawa and DeGange 1982) and for several years one bird attempted breeding with a Laysan albatross (Sanger 1978). Attempts have been made to encourage breeding there through decoys and recorded sounds, but this has not succeeded yet (H. Hasegawa, pers. comm., 2001). Historical range extended from the Bering Strait to California, and the species was common enough in both southern and northern latitudes to be found in the middens of coastal Native Americans (Friedman 1934, Yesner 1976).

When not on the nesting islands, short-tailed albatrosses are widespread in the temperate and subarctic North Pacific (Sanger 1978). Data from satellite-tracked individuals indicate that albatrosses range across much of the North Pacific from Torishima to the western and southern Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska, and southward to California, often more proximate to islands and mainland coasts than to mid-ocean areas (Suryan et al. 2007). Historically short-tailed albatrosses were common year-round off the western coast of North America (Roberson 1980), ranging southward to approximately 10 degrees North latitude (King 1981). Archeological evidence indicates their presence from California to Alaska (Friedman 1934, Yesner 1976), as well as throughout the entire North Pacific to the coast of China, including the Japan Sea, the Okhotsk Sea, the Bering Sea. Bering Sea records include the Komandorskie Islands, Diomede Islands, and Norton Sound (AOU 1957, Palmer 1962). These albatrosses also were commonly sighted in the Gulf of Alaska (Turner 1886, Nelson 1887) and were apparently common, if not abundant, in areas of high biological productivity such as along the west coast of North America, the Bering Sea, and offshore from the Aleutians (Hasegawa and DeGange 1982).

HISTORICAL BREEDING: Hasegawa (1979) identified 9 historical breeding locations in the western North Pacific, including 1) Torishima Island in the Izu Islands, 2) Mukojima in the Bonin Islands, 3) Nishinoshima in the Bonin Islands, 4) Kita-daitojima of the Daito group, 5) Minami-daitojima of the Daito group, 6) Okino-daitojima of the Daito group, 7) Senakaku Retto, 8) Agincourt Island north of Taiwan, and 9) Byosho. According to King (1981) there also may have been breeding on 1) Kobisho of the Senkaku group in the southern Ryukyu Islands, 2) Yomeshima and Kitanoshima in the Bonin Islands, 3) Pescadores between Taiwan and mainland China, and 4) Iwo Jima in the western Volcanic Islands (Kazan-Retto).

SUPPOSED ALASKA BREEDING: Several early naturalists believed that short-taileds bred in the islands of the Aleutian Archipelago because high numbers of birds were seen nearshore during the summer months. They were reported by Turner (1886) as highly abundant near Cape Newenham and abundant near the Pribilof Islands by Elliot (1898). Reports also described them near St. Lawrence Island, north to the Bering Strait and south to the Barren Islands in Lower Cook Inlet (Bean, Turner, and Nelson, in Hasegawa and DeGange 1982). There also was reference to breeding colonies by local Aleuts and a high frequency of occurrence in middens; however, fledgling bones were never recorded. Breeding was never verified in the Aleutians, and former breeding in Alaska is thought to be highly unlikely.

Coded range extent refers to the nesting range. Torishima is approximately 6 square kilomeers and Minami-kojima is 0.4 square kilometers.

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Historic Range:
North Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea_Canada, China, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Taiwan, U.S.A. (AK, CA, HI, OR, WA)

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Range

Breeds Torishima (Izu Islands); ranges at sea through n Pacific.
  • Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

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Range

The short-tailed albatross breeds on Torishima and the Senkaku Islands, Japan. It previously also bred on several other Japanese islands, as well as islands off the coast of Taiwan. Its marine range covers much of the northern Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Okhotsk. It has been recorded along the coasts of Japan, eastern Russia, South Korea, China, Alaska, and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, as well as down the west coast of the United States (2).
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Physical Description

Size

Length: 91 cm

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Diagnostic Description

Differs from Black-footed Albatross in having a bill that is pink instead of dark and large rather than small; blackfoots (and Laysan Albatrosses) also lack a white back (NGS 1983).

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Behaviour Phoebastria albatrus is a colonial, annually breeding species, with each breeding cycle lasting about 8 months. Birds begin to arrive at the main colony on Torishima Island in early October. A single egg is laid in late October to late November and incubation lasts 64 to 65 days. Hatching occurs in late December through January. Chicks begin to fledge in late May into June. There is little information on timing of breeding on Minami-kojima. First breeding sometimes occurs when birds are five years old, but more commonly when birds are aged six. It forages diurnally and potentially nocturnally, either singly or in groups primarily taking prey by surface-seizing (ACAP 2009). During the breeding season, individuals nesting off Japan forage over the continental shelf (Kiyota and Minami 2008). Habitat Breeding Historically, it preferred level, open, areas adjacent to tall clumps of the grass Miscanthus sinensis for nesting. Diet It feeds mainly on squid, but also takes shrimp, fish, flying fish eggs and other crustaceans (ACAP 2009). It has been recorded following ships to feed on scraps and fish offal.


Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Marine
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Depth range based on 1461 specimens in 1 taxon.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 1340 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 0 - 0
  Temperature range (°C): 1.037 - 26.522
  Nitrate (umol/L): 0.060 - 20.927
  Salinity (PPS): 30.381 - 35.294
  Oxygen (ml/l): 4.694 - 8.136
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.068 - 1.856
  Silicate (umol/l): 1.436 - 39.352

Graphical representation

Temperature range (°C): 1.037 - 26.522

Nitrate (umol/L): 0.060 - 20.927

Salinity (PPS): 30.381 - 35.294

Oxygen (ml/l): 4.694 - 8.136

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.068 - 1.856

Silicate (umol/l): 1.436 - 39.352
 
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breeding on Rorishima
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Habitat Type: Marine

Comments: This is a pelagic bird that often occurs in regions of high marine productivity. It nests on the ground on small oceanic islands; on volcanic ash slopes with sparse vegetation, formerly on level open areas adjacent to tall clumps of the grass Miscanthus sinensis (i.e., on Torishima, where also present was the composite Chrysanthemum pacificum and the nettle Boehmeria biloba, which stabilized the soil). Pairs tend to nest in the same site in successive nesting attempts. See Hasegawa and DeGange (1982) for a brief description of Torishima.

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Depth range based on 1461 specimens in 1 taxon.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 1340 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 0 - 0
  Temperature range (°C): 1.037 - 26.522
  Nitrate (umol/L): 0.060 - 20.927
  Salinity (PPS): 30.381 - 35.294
  Oxygen (ml/l): 4.694 - 8.136
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.068 - 1.856
  Silicate (umol/l): 1.436 - 39.352

Graphical representation

Temperature range (°C): 1.037 - 26.522

Nitrate (umol/L): 0.060 - 20.927

Salinity (PPS): 30.381 - 35.294

Oxygen (ml/l): 4.694 - 8.136

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.068 - 1.856

Silicate (umol/l): 1.436 - 39.352
 
Note: this information has not been validated. Check this *note*. Your feedback is most welcome.

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A pelagic species for most of the year, the short-tailed albatross is found on bare ground surrounded by cliffs at the nesting grounds. It previously nested in open areas (5).
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Migration

Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

Arrival at Torishima begins in early October, increasing until breeding begins in late October (Hasegawa and DeGrange 1982). Failed breeders and nonbreeders depart in winter and spring; successful breeders and fledglings depart from late May to June (Hasegawa and DeGange 1982).

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Trophic Strategy

Comments: This albatross feeds at the water surface on squid, crustaceans, and various fishes; sometimes it follows ships and feeds on scraps and offal. Chicks are fed a mixture of stomach oil and partially digested, regurgitated food; nestlings are fed squid, flying fishes, large crustaceans, and similar foods (Hasegawa and DeGange 1982).

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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: 1 - 5

Comments: There are two known breeding occurrences (Torishima and Minami-kojima); 80-85 percent of the breeding birds nest on Torishima (USFWS 2005). Researchers have encouraged the formation of a new colony on Torishima through the use of decoys and recorded sounds, but during the period 1995-2005 only 11 chicks fledged (USFWS 2005). More recently, however, the colony has exhibited an increasing trend in number of nesting pairs and fledged chicks.

Data from recent satellite tracking studies (e.g., Suryan et al. 2007) may eventually allow delineation of foraging area occurrences but, over the long term, foraging areas might turn out to be too large and dynamic (reflecting changes in food availability) to designate as distinct occurrences.

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Global Abundance

250 - 2500 individuals

Comments: The global population in 2005 was estimated at about 513 pairs (428 from Torishima and 85 from the Senkakus), or 2,052 individual birds (1,712 from Torishima and 340 from Minami-kojima in the Senkakus) (USFWS 2005).

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General Ecology

Little definite information is available on sources of mortality.

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Life History and Behavior

Cyclicity

Comments: Apparently often feeds nocturnally when squid are at the surface.

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Observations: Not much is known about the longevity of these animals, though they have been reported to live up to 17.3 years (Clapp et al. 1982). Considering the longevity of similar species, maximum longevity could be significantly underestimated.
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Reproduction

Breeding begins in late October. Egg laying occurs from late October through early November. Clutch size is 1. Both sexes incubate, in turns lasting from a few days to a few weeks. Total incubation period is 64-65 days. Hatching occurs from late December through early January; hatching success generally 33-75%. Nestling period lasts usually 5 months or more. Of the hatchlings, fledging success usually is over 90%. Pair-bond is life-long. Most first breed at 8-9 years old, sometimes at 5-7 years. After several years at sea, immatures annually visit the breeding colony for several years before reaching sexual maturity. [Source: Hasegawa and DeGrange 1982]

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Phoebastria albatrus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
VU
Vulnerable

Red List Criteria
D2

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2015

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Taylor, J. & Butchart, S.

Contributor/s
Balogh, G., Chan, S., Hasegawa, H., Peet, N., Rivera, K. & Suryan, R.

Justification
This species is listed as Vulnerable because, although conservation efforts have resulted in a steady population increase, it still has a very small breeding range, limited to Torishima and Minami-kojima (Senkaku Islands), rendering it susceptible to stochastic events and human impacts.


History
  • 2012
    Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Threatened (T)