Bird of the month

July bird of the month: Shy Albatross

Sunday, 7 July 2024

  • Estimated reading time 2 minutes

5 things about Shy Albatross

Here are 5 things you may or may not know about your July bird of the month, the Shy Albatross!

A close crop of a Shy Albatross facing to the right of the frame, showing its heavy brow and powerful grey and yellow beak. Its wings are outstretched against a dark ocean background.
Shy Albatross have adapted to drink seawater. A special gland above each eye removes the salt from their bloodstream, which is then excreted through their tube-like nostrils. Photo by Heyn de Kock

They’re Australia’s only endemic Albatross species

Shy Albatrosses breed in Australian waters and are our only endemic albatross species, nesting exclusively on three small islands off the coast of Tasmania.

These majestic seabirds occur widely throughout the subantarctic and subtropical waters of the southern oceans. In Australian waters, Shy Albatrosses are found along our eastern and southern coasts, from Stradbroke Island in Queensland to Carnarvon in Western Australia, while juvenile birds are known to travel as far as South Africa.

Seabirds like albatross are pelagic species – preferring to feed in the open ocean, out past the continental shelf. However, Shy Albatrosses often also venture closer to shore, where they can be spotted from clifftops.

To the left of the frame, a large Shy Albatross glides low with wings outstretched over the deep blue ocean waves against a pale white background.
Shy Albatross are masterful gliders. Photo by Adam Blyth

They can travel up to 1,000 kilometres in a single day! 

Spending much of their lives at sea and on the wing, albatrosses are renowned for their ability to cover vast distances – and the Shy Albatross is no exception.

With their elongated wings and huge wingspans (measuring almost 2.6 metres across!), Shy Albatrosses use a technique called dynamic soaring to harvest kinetic energy from strong ocean winds. Without needing to expend energy by flapping their wings, they can glide effortlessly across oceans – travelling as far as 1000 kilometres in just 24 hours in search of food, resting only occasionally on the water’s surface.

In the centre of the frame, a Shy Albatross floats on the ocean's surface at eye level while facing the camera, its large webbed feet visible from under the waves.
While they spend most of their lives on the wing, Shy Albatross will occasionally rest on the ocean’s surface. Photo by Danny Lee

3. They’re skilled fishermen

Shy Albatrosses feed mostly on fish, crustaceans, squid and cuttlefish, which they prefer to snatch from the water’s surface. However, using their long wings to propel them, Shy Albatrosses sometimes also plunge-dive for prey and can swim to depths of more than seven metres.

Shy Albatrosses will sometimes gather in large flocks to feed. They’re also known to forage alongside other seabirds and marine mammals such as dolphins, whales and fur seals, which drive prey to the surface and allow for easier hunting.

4. They’re long-lived

Like other albatross species, Shy Albatrosses can reach an impressive age. While the oldest confirmed age of a Shy Albatross was just shy of 40-years-old, it’s likely that they can live much longer.

To the right of the frame, a Shy Albatross is perched on the edge of a cliff with wings outstretched, preparing to take off. The dark ocean and sky and several birds in flight are visible in the background, illuminated in the sun.
Shy Albatross nest in colonies on remote offshore islands. Photo by Matthew Newton

5. They’re not so shy

Shy Albatrosses are said to be so-named due to their reluctance to approach the boats of early fishermen at sea, but their shy reputation doesn’t hold up – instead, Shy Albatrosses often follow ships and trawlers, scavenging and squabbling for offal in large numbers on commercial fishing grounds.

Sadly, these same fishing operations also pose a serious threat to Shy Albatrosses and other seabirds. Birds are often injured or killed by flying into cables on trawling vessels, and they can become snagged on longline fishing hooks in poorly-regulated fisheries.

Shy Albatross are also threatened by rising ocean temperatures and disease, while their nesting sites are being impacted by hotter summers and increasing extreme weather events. In 2020, Shy Albatross were listed as nationally Endangered in Australia.