Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

The northern royal albatross usually pairs for life, with new pairs performing elaborate courtship displays that include actions like 'bill-circling', 'sky-pointing', 'flank-touching' with the bill, and full spreading of the wings, typically accompanied by a variety of calls. Breeding occurs every two years if successful (6). Previously mated pairs usually use the same nest site from season to season (7), and usually return to their breeding grounds between mid-October and mid-November, with the female laying her single egg a month later (6). After 79 days incubation the hatchling emerges, and the young fledges 240 days later from September to October the following year. These long-lived birds return to their natal colony at four to eight years of age but do not start to breed until at least nine years, and have been recorded to live up to at least 61 years in the wild (6). The northern royal albatross feeds mainly on fish and squid, supplemented by crustaceans and carrion (2).
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Description

With a wingspan of up to 3.2 meters, the northern royal albatross is one of the world's largest flying birds (3). The plumage is white with completely black upperwings, and juveniles have some black flecking on the upperparts (5). The bill is pale pink with a diagnostic black edge to the upper beak (2) (5).
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Distribution

Range Description

Diomedea sanfordi breeds on Forty-Fours, Big and Little Sister Islands (Chatham Islands), Taiaroa Head (Otago Peninsula, South Island) and Enderby Island (Auckland Islands), New Zealand. The Chatham Islands population (99% of the total) is estimated at 6,500-7,000 pairs (Robertson et al. 2003), with c. 5,200-5,800 pairs breeding each year. Around 25 pairs breed each year at Taiaroa Head, including five hybrids (descended from cross with female Southern Royal Albatross D. epomophora). Two birds have hybridised on Enderby Island. During the breeding season adults typically forage over the Chatham Rise (Nicholls et al. 2002, BirdLife International 2004). Non-breeding and juvenile birds undertake circumpolar traverses in the Southern Oceans (Robertson and Nicholls 2000)and forage in the Humboldt Current and Patagonian Shelf, off the coasts of South America (Robertson et al. 2003, Nicholls et al. 2005, Thomas et al. 2010). Low annual productivity has led to a projected population decline in this species. In 1985, a cyclonic storm hit the breeding sites on the Chatham Islands, reducing soil cover and destroying most vegetation (Robertson 1998). Nests were subsequently built with stones, or eggs laid on bare rock (Taylor 2000). As a result, mean annual productivity plummeted to 8% (1990-1996) on the Forty-Fours, and 18% over all three islands (Robertson 1998), due to egg breakage, high temperatures and flooding in temporary pools (Taylor 2000), though there has since been a partial recovery (Robertson et al. 2003). By 2007, annual herb-field vegetation cover had recovered to about 70% of that recorded in the 1970s. The soil base is still minimal, but improving. While productivity has continued to improve, the mean annual chick production from 1995-2003 was still only 66% of the mean annual productivity per annum in the 1970s. It is estimated that for the 20 year period 1985-2005 there was a total 50-60% reduction in productivity for the species. However, it is clear from the annual chick production figures that the annual breeding population is becoming much more balanced than in the 1990s, when as much at 80-90% of the breeding population was attempting to breed annually (rather than the normal 60%). In 2002, an end of egg-laying count was 5,800 pairs, with a probable 1,700 pairs on sabbatical (after breeding in the previous season). This suggests that in spite of the extensive reduction in productivity over a 20-year period, the number of breeding pairs may have remained relatively stable (C. J. R. Robertson in litt. 2008).

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Range

Chatham Islands and New Zealand; ranges circumpolar s oceans.
  • 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 majority of northern royal albatrosses breed on Forty-Fours, Big and Little Sister Islands (Chatham Islands), but breeding also occurs on Taiaroa Head (Otago Peninsula, South Island) and Enderby Island (Auckland Islands), New Zealand. Non-breeding birds occupy the Southern Oceans (2).
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Behaviour Eggs are laid in October to December, hatching mostly between late January and early February, and chicks fledge in September-October. It is a biennial breeder, if chick rearing is successful. Juvenile birds start returning to the colony when three years old but the mean is four years of age. Age of first breeding can be as early as six years old, but it is usually eight years of age. Satellite-tracking of breeding birds shows that they forage close to their breeding sites, over the shallow waters of the Chatham Rise out to the shelf slope (1,500 - 2,000 m deep). Failed breeders and non-breeding birds, including newly fledged juveniles, rapidly traverse the Pacific Ocean to the continental shelf and slope off Chile and the Patagonian Shelf. On the Patagonian Shelf, they are widespread 200-350 km offshore in waters <200 m deep but extending to, and over, the shelf break to 1000 m depth between 36 and 49S (ACAP 2009). Habitat Breeding Northern Royal Albatrosses usually nest on the flat summits of tiny islands with herb fields (G. A. Taylor in litt. 1999) and grasses. The nest is typically a low mound of vegetation, mud, feathers, stone chips etc, on flat ground and slopes on islands and headlands. Diet It feeds mainly on cephalopods and fish, but also salps, crustacea and carrion (Heather and Robertson 1997, Imber 1999).


Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Marine
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The northern royal albatross typically nests on the flat summits of small islands, but in the non-breeding season inhabits the open oceans (2).
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
EN
Endangered

Red List Criteria
A4bc;B2ab(iii,v)

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2013

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S.

Contributor/s
Gales, R., Misiak, W., Phillips, R., Robertson, C., Stahl, J.-C., Taylor, G. & Walker, K.

Justification
This species is classified as Endangered because it is restricted to a tiny breeding range in which severe storms in the 1980s resulted in a decrease in habitat quality, which led to poor breeding success. Based on this low breeding success, the population is estimated and projected to be undergoing a very rapid decline over three generations (1985-2069). Evidence suggests that the number of breeding pairs may have remained relatively stable, thus the species might qualify for downlisting in the future, however in the absence of recent substantive data upon which to assess trends or changes in productivity rates, projected declines are precautionarily maintained.


History
  • 2012
    Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Not Recognized (NR)
  • Not Recognized (NR)