Albatrosses are seabirds that live along the Pacific and Southern Ocean (near Antarctica) coastlines. These birds are among the largest flying birds on Earth and are famously known for their truly massive wingspans. There is debate among the number of species that exist within the genus, but there are at least 22 commonly recognized species by the IUCN. Let’s take a look at these amazing birds to learn: how big are albatrosses and what’s their wingspan?
What is the size of an albatross?
Albatrosses as a species are larger than most birds. Even within the species, however, there are some that are larger than the others. On average, an albatross weighs 13-28 lbs, but most weigh under 26 lbs. They can be rather imposing birds, standing at heights of 4 ft 5 inches, nearly that of a human.
While they are tall and heavy, what truly distinguishes them is their wingspans. When we think of large birds, eagles, hawks, and condors are generally what come to mind. While those birds may be impressive, they aren’t nearly as large as an albatross. The wingspan of an albatross regularly clears 10 feet, with some species averaging out around 11-12 feet in length. For reference, two grown 6ft tall humans would need to stand head to head in order to equal the wingspan of a large albatross.
With these stats, it’s clear why the albatross is considered to be the largest flying bird in the world without too much of a contest. Still, that isn’t the whole story!
What kinds of albatross are there?
There are at least 22 albatross species, with a possible 24 debated by some researchers. These different species can be broken up into four genera (the grouping above a species): great albatrosses, mollymawks, North Pacific albatrosses, and sooty albatrosses.
The great albatrosses are usually larger than any of the other genera divisions and live across the Southern Ocean. They range from New Zealand‘s islands down near Antarctica all the way to South Georgia and Tristan da Cunha in the Atlantic.
The mollymawks are some of the most common albatrosses around. Like the great albatrosses, the mollymawks live in the Southern Hemisphere and were only recently distinguished as a separate group.
North Pacific albatrosses are considered the most “tropical” of all the albatrosses, with two groups that nest on the Hawaiin Islands and Japanese Islands, respectively. A third group lives mostly around the equator in Ecuador and Peru.
Sooty albatrosses breed on islands in the sub-Antarctic but range along the Southern Ocean from South America all the way to Australia. They are middle-sized albatrosses when compared to the other species and are also only recently distinguished as genera.
What albatross is the biggest?
The wandering albatross is the largest albatross species and has a wingspan that can reach 12 feet across!
With the 22 different species and four different genera, the question often comes up: which albatross has the largest wingspan? Let’s look at the two species that are often regarded as being larger, particularly in their overall size and weight.
The wandering albatross is often viewed as the largest albatross species in the world. They breed on islands all over the world and travel around the globe at certain times of the year. The wandering albatross often has wingspans reaching 11 feet in length, with some occasionally reaching 12 feet.
The other competitor for the world’s largest flying bird is the Southern royal albatross. These birds are similar in size, with some sources arguing for their slight advantage. Regardless, they average out to about the same in size in wingspan.
Why do albatross have such large wingspans?
There are often evolutionary advantages to seemingly strange body parts and the albatross is no different. Their proportionally massive wingspan offers them a few advantages that separate them from many birds on the earth.
The main advantage of their wingspan is their ability to soar astonishing distances. Albatrosses fly by swooping towards the water and pulling up, catching updrafts, and racing back up. They then lock their wings in place through a special biological mechanism and cruise in the clouds. Using this method, an albatross is able to travel 10,000 miles in a single journey – a truly amazing ability. For reference, an albatross is able to travel the entire earth in a mere 46 days. The wingspan of an albatross is what allows it to go the distances required to breed, feed, and live.
They are such amazing flyers a rumor developed that albatrosses spend years without touching land. While this isn’t as true as it sounds, it’s close! An albatross can go long distances in the air, landing on water to rest when it’s needed. Using this method, they will often go weeks at a time without ever touching land.
Are there birds bigger than an albatross?
We’ve already established that albatrosses are the largest flying birds in the world, but are they the largest birds overall?
Unfortunately, they don’t hold every size record in the avian world. There are a few species of bird that are larger than an albatross when it comes to weight and other measurements. The Great bustard, for instance, is the heaviest flying bird in the world. These birds live in Morocco, Spain, and Portugal, flying to central Asia and Europe to breed and nest through the year. The heaviest specimen ever found was from Manchuria, China, and was 40 lbs. Generally, they are much smaller, but they can get heavier than an albatross.
Aside from flying birds, there are a few other species that are stuck on the ground that are significantly larger than an albatross. Among the most famous ones would be the ostrich, emu, some penguin species, and the cassowary.
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