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Short-tailed Albatross Phoebastria albatrus


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Short-tailed Albatross
© Roger B. Clapp/U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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Family: Diomedeidae, Albatrosses view all from this family

Description 37" (94 cm); wingspan 84-90" (213.5-228.5 cm). Adults have a white body, including the back, and a broad black band at the tip of the tail. The head and neck are washed with yellow-buff; the bill is pale pink. The basal half of the upperwing is white, except for a dark patch on the trailing edge; the outer half is dark with white primary shafts; the underwing is white with narrow dark margins. Juveniles are entirely dark brown at first, with a pink bill and pink feet. Subadults have a "black-throated" stage, with a white face, breast, and belly separated by a dark band across the throat. As the throat becomes white, a blackish area remains from the top of the head to the hindneck, continuing as a wedge down the side of the neck and creating a black-hooded look. This hood is retained while the back becomes contrastingly paler and mottled with white. The forehead, face, and sides of the neck acquire a yellow tinge while the dark hood is still present. White patches appear on the upperside of the wing fairly early, eventually joining to form a continuous white area; the uppertail coverts become white before the back does.

Endangered Status The Short-tailed Albatross is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. It is classified as endangered in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California. Formerly abundant in the northwestern Pacific, the Short-tailed Albatross was brought close to extinction by the late 1940s, mainly because they were hunted for food as well as their feathers, which were coveted for pen plumes and feather beds. By 1954, a few birds had returned to nest on Torishima, an island south of Japan, and there are now estimated to be about 200 birds. The nesting island is an active volcano that erupted and killed the island's human population in 1902; if it were to erupt during the breeding season it could wipe out most of the Short-tailed Albatrosses in existence. Another threat to the breeding colonies is the feral cats and rats on the island. The Japanese government is attempting to remove these animals from the island, and has designated the entire island a protected area. Though strictly protected by the Japanese government, the Short-tailed remains one of the rarest and most endangered birds.

Habitat Open ocean.

Observation Tips 1 large, white egg in nest on ground. Nests in colonies.

Range North American sightings in recent years mainly from Alaska; 1 from British Columbia, 1 from Oregon, and 3 from California. Nests on Torishima, off Japan.

Voice Usually silent.

Similar Species See Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses; also Wandering Albatross.

Discussion This very large, heavy-bodied, stout-billed albatross is intermediate in size between the Wandering and the Laysan. Although the wings are long, they are proportionately somewhat shorter than those of other albatrosses. The Short-tailed progresses from a brown juvenal plumage through a series of intermediate stages to a mainly white adult plumage. While the brown juveniles and fully adult birds are distinctive, subadults can be confusing.