Wandering Albatross

Diomedea exulans

Last updated: February 16, 2021
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Imogen Warren/Shutterstock.com

Featured in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”


Wandering Albatross Scientific Classification

Scientific Name
Diomedea exulans

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Wandering Albatross Conservation Status

Wandering Albatross Locations

Wandering Albatross Locations

Wandering Albatross Facts

Cephalopods, crustaceans, fish
Name Of Young
Group Behavior
  • Solitary/Pairs
Fun Fact
Featured in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
Estimated Population Size
Biggest Threat
Longline fishing
Most Distinctive Feature
Enormous wingspan
Other Name(s)
Goonie, snowy albatross, white-winged albatross, great albatross
3-4 meters (10 to 12 feet)
Incubation Period
11 weeks
Age Of Independence
7-8 months
Litter Size
Juveniles – skua, sheathbill, cat, goat, pig; adults – none
Common Name
Number Of Species
Southern oceans

Wandering Albatross Physical Characteristics

  • Black
  • White
  • Pink
Skin Type
Top Speed
67 mph
Over 50 years
5.9-12.7 kilograms (13-28 pounds)
107-135 centimeters (3 feet 6 inches-4 feet 5 inches)
Age of Sexual Maturity
11-15 years

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“The Wandering Albatross has the widest wingspan of any living bird”

The wandering albatross lives mostly on the wing above the world’s southern seas. As one of the largest birds living, it has been the subject of numerous studies. As a result, researchers have compiled an extensive list of facts about the species. Although the average wingspan of the wandering albatross is about 10 feet from wingtip to wingtip, unverified accounts report measurements up to 17 feet, 5 inches.

5 Incredible Wandering Albatross Facts!

  • It has the largest wingspan of any bird on earth and can soar for hours without flapping its wings.
  • Juveniles have brown plumage, which changes to white as they mature.
  • The wandering albatross has a salt gland just above its bill, which helps it shed some of the sea salt it takes in.
  • This large bird spends most of its time flying, and it lands only to breed and eat.
  • The wandering albatross flies approximately 120,000 kilometers (75,000 miles) each year.

Wandering Albatross Scientific Name

The scientific name of this sea bird is Diomedea exulans. The word “diomedia” describes the genus of great albatrosses. “Exulans” derives from the Latin root “exul,” which means exile. Thus, the wandering albatross is largely a solitary bird, only joining others of its kind to mate and eat.

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The taxonomy for the wandering albatross is as follows:

• Phylum: Chordata
• Class: Aves
• Order: Procellariiforms
• Family: Diomedeidae
• Genus: Diomedea
• Species: D. exulans

The wandering albatross is one of several species in the Diomedea genus, which also includes:

• Diomedea antipodensis, or the Antipodean albatross
• Diomedea amsterdamensis, or the Amsterdam albatross
• Diomedea dabbenea, or the Tristan albatross
• Diomedea sanfordi, or the Northern royal albatross
• Diomedea epomorphora, or the Southern royal albatross

Wandering Albatross Appearance

One way to tell a wandering albatross from other types of albatross is its plumage. It is whiter allover. This distinction has inspired the alternative names snowy albatross and white-winged albatross for this light-colored bird. It has a white head, neck, and body with a bit of black along the wings. Males are whiter than females.

The tail is shaped like a triangle. This bird has a large pink bill that curves to a downward hook at the end. Its feet are also pink. Often, a snowy albatross will have pinkish-yellow stains on its neck from the highly saline secretions flowing from its salt gland. Young wandering albatrosses have darker feathers, which whiten as they mature.

The average male is about 4 feet from beak to tail. Females tend to be smaller, averaging 3.5 feet in length. Typically, these birds weigh in between 14 and 26 pounds, although some males may reach weights up to 28 pounds.

Their wingspan is the most distinctive feature of the wandering albatross’s appearance. It is wider than that of any other bird. It ranges from 2.5 to 3.5 meters (8 feet 3 inches to 9 ft 20 inches) on average. The largest verified wingspan recorded for this species is 3.7 meters (12 feet 2 inches).

Pair of wandering albatrosses on the nest, socializing South Georgia Island, Antarctica

Pair of wandering albatrosses on the nest, South Georgia Island, Antarctica


Wandering Albatross Behavior

When hunting for food, these snowy birds can make shallow dives to scoop up their prey, although they prefer surface fishing. They will also feed on floating debris, and they will follow ships to eat the garbage thrown overboard.

Although typically silent while in flight, white-winged albatrosses vocalize in several different ways when they are wooing their mates. They trumpet shrilly, groan, rattle, whistle and cluck. They rap their bills against each other and make braying sounds. During the biennial mating ritual, they may also expand their wings and weave their heads back and forth.

The only other times these goonies associate with other albatrosses is to feed on the waste from fishing boats. Then, they form a flock and compete for the spoils.

Wandering Albatross Habitat

The wandering albatross calls the infinite sky its habitat, and it spends the greater part of its 50-year lifespan soaring above the seas and islands of the Southern Hemisphere. Its habitat includes the waters around New Zealand and Australia, Antarctica and Africa. The North Atlantic Ocean is the only sea where the wandering albatross does not range.

Once snowy albatross fledglings leave the nest, they remain at sea for up to 10 years before returning to their home turf to breed. These large birds breed on such south sea islands as Southern Georgia in the South Atlantic, the Indian Ocean’s Crozet Islands, Iles Kerguelen near Antarctica, Macquarie Island south of Australia, and New Zealand’s Campbell and Snares islands.

Wandering Albatross Diet

Goonies subsist largely on a diet of fish, cephalopods, and crustaceans. These include squid and shrimp. The snowy birds hunt in deeper waters than other albatross species, further out to sea. They will eat phytoplankton, offal, carrion, and garbage too. When possible, goonies will overeat to the point that they cannot take flight, stranded for a time floating on the waves.

Wandering Albatross Predators and Threats

Albatross eggs and chicks are most at risk from winged predators, chiefly skuas and sheathbills. Imported domestic animals like pigs, goats and cats also eat the eggs and the chicks.

Adult wandering albatross have no natural predators. Human activities have made the species vulnerable from a conservation viewpoint, however. Longline commercial fishing kills large numbers of these white-winged birds annually. Pollution and overfishing reduce their food supply.

Wandering Albatross Reproduction and Life Cycle

Wandering albatrosses mate every two years between December and February, beginning when they are between 11 and 15 years old. They will keep the same mate for life.

Each breeding pair mates on dry land, on one of the islands within their range. The female lays a single spotted white egg, which is about 10 centimeters (just under 4 inches) in length. Both parents alternate sitting on the nest. The egg hatches in 11 weeks or so. The parents will return to the nest to feed their chick with oils from their digested food.

As the baby reaches 4 to 5 weeks of age, parents return less often, until at 7-8 months, the chick is ready to leave the nest. It will not return to the nesting site for several years until it is ready to mate.

Wandering albatross are long-lived birds. Their lifespan is up to 50 years. One banded bird under study was well over that age when last sighted.

Wandering Albatross Population

As of 2007, the wandering albatross population was an estimated 25,500, of which just over 8,000 consisted of breeding pairs. Since then, their numbers have been dwindling due to commercial fishing activity. Currently, only about 20,000 of these goonie birds remain. As a result, the wandering albatross is on the vulnerable species list.

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Wandering Albatross FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Where do wandering albatross live?

Their flight ranges over every oceanic region on earth except the North Atlantic. This includes the south seas surrounding Antarctica, Australia, Africa, Europe, Asia, Oceania, and North America. They breed on the island of South Georgia, the Prince Edward and Marion Islands, Kerguelan and Crozet islands, and Macquarie Island.

What do wandering albatross eat?

These large, white-winged birds eat small fish, shrimp, squid, phytoplankton, and floating refuse.

How much does a wandering albatross weigh?

The average weight of a wandering albatross male is 20 pounds. Females are slightly smaller with an average weight of 17 pounds. The largest male on record weighed 28 pounds.

What is the wingspan of a wandering albatross?

This bird has the widest wingspan in the world. The average span for a wandering albatross is just over 3 meters (10 feet), with a range between 2.51 and 3.5 meters (8 feet 3 inches-11 feet 6 inches. The largest verified wingspan measurement is 3.7 meters or 12 feet 2 inches. The largest reported wingspan, although unverified, is 5.3 meters (17 feet 5 inches).

How long can a wandering albatross fly nonstop?

According to researchers’ facts, the wandering albatross can fly more than 46 days and 10,000 miles without touching down. These birds fly at speeds topping out at 67 miles per hour, up to three times as fast as the wind, using a dynamic soaring technique. Also, these snowy birds can stay out to sea for up to five years.

How does the wandering albatross sleep while flying?

Experts guess that the albatross might catch a few winks while floating on the surface of the water after feeding. In flight, though, they expend so little energy that they may not need to sleep.

Is an albatross a sign of bad luck?

No, there are no facts to verify this notion. In “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” a famous poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the mariner killed an albatross and then had bad luck at sea. The bird itself does not have any effect, either positive or negative, on what happens to people.

What Kingdom do Wandering Albatross belong to?

Wandering Albatross belong to the Kingdom Animalia.

What phylum do Wandering Albatross belong to?

Wandering Albatross belong to the phylum Chordata.

What class do Wandering Albatross belong to?

Wandering Albatross belong to the class Aves.

What family do Wandering Albatross belong to?

Wandering Albatross belong to the family Diomedeidae.

What order to Wandering Albatross belong to?

Wandering Albatross belong to order Procellariiforms.

What type of covering do Wandering Albatrosses have?

Wandering Albatrosses are covered in Feathers.

What are some predators of Wandering Albatross?

Predators of juvenile Wandering Albatross include skuas, sheathbills, cats, goats, and pigs. Adult Wandering Albatross have no predators.

What is the scientific name for the Wandering Albatross?

The scientific name for the Wandering Albatross is Diomedea exulans.

What is the lifespan of a Wandering Albatross?

Wandering Albatross can live for over 50 years.

How many species of Wandering Albatross are there?

There is 1 species of Wandering Albatross.

What is a baby Wandering Albatross called?

A baby Wandering Albatross is called a chick.

What is the biggest threat to the Wandering Albatross?

The biggest threat to Wandering Albatross is longline fishing.

What is another name for the Wandering Albatross?

The Wandering Albatross is also called the goonie, snowy albatross, white-winged albatross, or great albatross.

How many Wandering Albatross are left in the world?

There are 25,500 Wandering Albatross left in the world.

How many babies do Wandering Albatross have?

The average number of babies a Wandering Albatross has is 1.

What is an interesting fact about Wandering Albatross?

The Wandering Albatross is featured in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”.

How do Wandering Albatross have babies?

Wandering Albatross lay eggs.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

  1. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wandering_albatross
  2. Australian Antartic Program, Available here: https://www.antarctica.gov.au/about-antarctica/animals/flying-birds/wandering-albatross/
  3. Oceanwide Expeditions, Available here: https://oceanwide-expeditions.com/to-do/wildlife/wandering-albatross
  4. New Zealand Birds Online, Available here: http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/wandering-albatross
  5. Green Peace, Available here: https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/oceans/wildlife-facts/albatross/
  6. Cool Antarctica, Available here: https://www.coolantarctica.com/Antarctica%20fact%20file/wildlife/wandering-albatross.php
  7. J. Cooper , H. Battam , C. Loves , P. J. Milburn & L. E. Smith (2003) The Oldest Known Banded Wandering Albatross Diomedea Exulans at the Prince Edward Islands (1970) African Journal of Marine Science, 25:1, 525-527.
  8. Data Zone, Available here: http://datazone.birdlife.org/sowb/casestudy/many-albatross-species-are-in-alarming-slow-decline
  9. Animalia, Available here: http://animalia.bio/wandering-albatross
  10. Independent, Available here: https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/how-unflappable-albatross-can-travel-10-000-miles-single-journey-8945618.html

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