Saturday, August 7, 2021

Short-tailed Albatross

In the late morning of 29 July on our pelagic trip we came upon several Black-footed Albatross. A much larger, all dark albatross flew out of the fog. Note that this bird did not have a white rump and had a large, pinkish bill. Our bird spotters yelled, “Short-tailed Albatross!” With the enticement of some fish offal, the albatross landed next to our boat. We were thrilled!
Now fewer than 5000 individuals breed on four islands off Japan and the species has bred at least once on Midway Island. After breeding, this albatross disperses across the North Pacific—most are seen among the Aleutian Islands. This record is the third Short-tailed Albatross seen in Washington waters this year. Immature birds, like the one we saw, take several years to mature. Adults are a rather spectacularly plumaged black and white and sport rusty-colored heads. Seeing this bird is a bit like seeing an Ivory-billed Woodpecker! They were once thought to be extinct, but this judgement did not take account of several immatures out at sea, away from their nesting islands. Today longline fisheries and volcanic activity on one of their breeding islands are their biggest threats. Other threats include environmental contaminants and storms.

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