Albatross, a seabird. Of the 13 species, most nest in the Southern Hemisphere, although three species are found north of the Equator. Albatrosses have webbed feet and large, hooked bills. Most species are white with black wings and tail. Their long, tapered wings are adapted to gliding on updrafts of air from oceanic winds. The wingspan of most species ranges from 6 to 8 feet (1.8 to 2.4 m), although the wings are only 9 inches (23 cm) wide. Albatrosses range from 28 to 54 inches (71 to 137 cm) in length, and the larger species weigh more than 20 pounds (9 kg).

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Albatrosses live almost their entire lives at sea, coming to land only to nest. They breed on small islands, living in colonies of up to 50,000 individuals. During the breeding season, the male performs an elaborate courtship dance. The female lays one white, brown-speckled egg in a shallow nest on the ground. Both parents incubate the egg for 9 to 10 weeks, until it hatches. The young remains in the nest until it can fly, about six months later. Adult albatrosses feed on fish, crustaceans, and squid, and often follow ships, feeding on discarded food. Parents feed their young by regurgitating previously digested food into their mouths.

Sailors often refer to albatrosses as “gooney birds” because of their disregard of danger. They have long had a taboo against killing albatrosses. In his poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge tells of the misfortunes that befell a ship after a sailor defied this superstition and killed an albatross.

The wandering albatross, a species of the South Pacific, is the largest species of albatross. It has a wingspan of nearly 12 feet (3.7 m), the largest of any living bird. It is named for its ability to cover vast distances by riding oceanic winds. The black-footed albatross is a species of the North Pacific. It is dark gray to tan with white markings on the head, wings, and abdomen.

Albatrosses make up the family Diomedeidae. The wandering albatross is Diomedea exulans; black-footed, D. nigripes.


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