Albatross Wingspan

The Bird's Plumage and Range

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Much discrepancy, once existed in the accounts given by various writers of the expanse of wing of the Wandering Albatross, Diomedea exulans. We may set aside as a gross exaggeration the assertion that examples have been obtained measuring 20 feet.  Dr George Bennett of Sydney, Australia stated in his 19th century Wanderings, etc, ii. page 363 that he has "never seen the spread of the wings greater than fourteen feet."  Later Mr. J. F. Green (Ocean Birds, page 5) says that, out of more than one hundred which he had caught and measured, the largest was 11 feet 4 inches from tip to tip, a statement exactly confirmed, he adds, by the forty years' experience of a ship captain who had always made a point of measuring these birds, and had never found one over that length.  This seems to have been a good estimate of size, and to date (as at 2006), the largest wingspan of an albattross (which is in fact the largest wingspan of all birds) has been measured at just under 12 feet.

Plumage of the Albatross

The Wandering Albatross is too well known to need many words as to its chief features. In the adult the plumage of the body is white, more or less mottled above by fine wavy bars, and the quill-feathers of the wings are brownish-black. The young are suffused with slaty-brown, the tint becoming lighter as the bird grows older.

Range of the Albatross

The Wandering Albatross is found throughout the Southern Ocean, seldom occurring northward of latitude 30° South (Instances are recorded of its occurrence in Europe and North America, and no doubt examples of some species of Albatross have wandered so far from their usual range. Fossil remains of Diomedea have been found in Suffolk (Q. J. Geol. Soc. 1886, page 367)) and it is invariably met with by ships that round the Cape of Good Hope or pass the Strait of Magellan.

Risk of Extinction

As a species the Wandering Albatross is said to be less numerous than most of its smaller congeners, and one cannot but fear that it will become rarer still, if not extinct.  In the 19th century it was subjected to senseless slaughter to which it is by the occupants of may a ship, either as "sport", or to catch the bird for food or for its feathers.  Now in the early 21st century, long-line fishing is a significant threat - the birds can be attracted to the bait used, and get caught in the hooks and drown.  Plastic flotsam which is indigestible by the bird and can take up space in the stomach which would otherwise be occupied by food is also a particularly unpleasant problem.  Other species of animal, for example rats, feral cats and mice which have been introduced at its not too many breeding-places, which are on mostly small and remote islands, have inflicted ravages upon it, causing disastrous havoc. The bird is so endangered that an official campaign to Save the Albatross now exists in an attempt to stop the albatross from suffering a similar fate to extinct birds like the Passenger Pigeon.

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