Albatrosses are hard-working athletes. To be a successful albatross means having some amazing skills, including the ability to make tremendous long-distance flights. Keep reading to introduce yourself to the bird Family Diomedeidae (Dye-oh-med-EE-id-ee), the albatrosses.
Albatrosses are AMAZING! They
are among the largest flying birds, weighing in at up to 10 kilograms (22 lbs). Some
species display striking colors and perform beautiful mating dances. Albatrosses are
oceanic birds. They live at sea and find their fish and squid food on the
open ocean. They come to land on islands only because their offspring have to be on
land until they can fly. This
can be a problem for Mom and Dad Albatross, because the food in the ocean may be a long
distance from where the nesting island happens to be! To handle this problem albatrosses can cover thousands of kilometers
during one trip to find food for their babies and themselves. Let's introduce you to
the birds and their athletic ability.
Some basics of being an albatross are:
Yucky child care. Babies in the nest, or "nestlings", get their food when the mother or father returns to the nest and gives it to them. Some bird species carry the food, like a worm or insect, in the bill and pop it into the nestling's mouth. That is not what albatrosses do. Albatross parents catch and swallow their prey at sea, then fly back to the nest. The parents then...uh... regurgitate the food into the nestling's mouth. You might not know what "regurgitate" means, but you probably do know what "vomit" means, and it is the same thing. How would YOU like to get your breakfast that way? Well, albatross babies love it!
Albatrosses are pretty unusual in laying one egg. The graph below shows the normal clutch size of some types of birds. The green points are birds that eat mostly plants (herbivores), and the red points are predators. Albatrosses are predators also, but they are shown in black. Birds that only lead their young to food and don't actually give them food (like pheasants, ducks, and swans) usually lay more eggs than the rest of the birds do that carry food to the nestlings in the nest. Albatrosses are predatory and they bring food to their young in the nest, so it is not a surprise that they have a small clutch size. However, compared to some other birds in that same situation, like pelicans and eagles, they still have an unusually small clutch. Ornithologists (scientists that study birds) have an idea that the long feeding trips of albatrosses cause the small clutch size, because the parents cannot bring food often enough to satisfy more than one chick in the nest.
Albatrosses work hard
for a living. Take egg laying as an
example. The bigger albatrosses lay bigger eggs; it's more or less correct to say
that the mass (weight) of the egg is about 8% of the female's body mass. What if WE
laid eggs that were 8% of our mass? How much does a human mother weigh? For a
60 kg (132 lb) mom, an egg that size would weigh 4.8 kg (10.5 lb), which in fact is about
the size of a large human baby. Ask a mom how easy it would be to produce an egg
that size! If a 35 kg (77 lb.) sixth grader laid an egg that was 8% of body mass, it
would weigh 2.8 kg (6.2 lbs) and be close to the size of a gallon of milk!!
1) they have the ability to concentrate the food they catch and store it in their bellies
2) using "dynamic soaring" they can fly LOOOOONNNG distances with little effort to find the food and then take it to the nest.
You can find out about the food storing and dynamic soaring by hitting one of the buttons below. You can also run the Cost of Flight Virtual Computer to calculate the energy that albatrosses use to move themselves and their food through the air. And after you know these things, you should be ready to use satellites to track some albatrosses when they take some of the monster trips!
This page was last updated on January 27, 1999 08:25 AM