Shy Albatross (Thalassarche cauta)

Shy Albatross

[order] PROCELLARIIFORMES | [family] Diomedeidae | [latin] Thalassarche cauta | [authority] Gould, 1841 | [UK] Shy Albatross | [FR] Albatros a cape blanche | [DE] Weisskappen-Albatros | [ES] Albatros Frentiblanco | [NL] Witkapalbatros


Monotypic species


Albatrosses are the ‘largest’ birds in terms of wingspan. Royal Abatrosses, for instance, may reach a wing span of almost 3.5m, which make them look like feathered sail plaines. They are also the largest members of the tubenose family. Only the smallest albatross species are equalled in size by the Giant Petrels (Macronectes). Albatrosses occur in all oceans, except the northern part of the Atlantic. In ancient times they were also present in that part of the world, but nowadays only an occasional straggler find its way to the North Atlantic. Most of the 24 species are Southern Hemisphere breeders, only three actually breed north of the Equator in the Pacific Ocean.
Albatross taxonomy is subject of discussion for a long time, and has been at times rather chaotic. Based on external characters: plumage patterns, tail shapes, bill structure (size, organization of the plates and coloration) albatrosses were, until recently, divided in 13-14 species in four ‘natural groups’: the Great Albatrosses, the Mollymawks, the North Pacific Albatrosses, grouped in the genus Diomedea and the Sooty Albatrosses Phoebastria. More recently DNA-analyses supports the division in four distinct groups but the were elevated to a generic status and has led to a splitting into 24 species: Great Albatrosses Diomedea (7 species), the Northern (Pacific) Albatrosses Phoebastria (4 species), the southern Mollymawks Thalassarche (11 species) and the Sooty Albatrosses Phoebetria (2 species). Recently this taxonomy is challenged by who proposed to lump some of the ‘species’ again based on their molecular analysis. Since then the discussion flared up and has not ended yet. Some list six species of Great Albatrosses, including two subspecies of Antipodian Albatross.

Physical charateristics

The adult has white underparts, white underwings narrowly edged with black, grayish back, white rump, dark tail, and white to grayish head. The upperwing appears all-dark except for a white flash at the base of the primaries. The black notch on the underwing at the point where the leading edge of the wing joins the body is diagnostic. Bill color is also a useful field mark: gray (with yellow tip in adults) in Shy, yellow in Laysan, and pink in Short-tailed. See specialized field guides for other distinctions, including separation of the geographical races of Shy Albatross.

Listen to the sound of Shy Albatross

[audio: Albatross.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

recorded by Frank Lambert

wingspan min.: 220 cm wingspan max.: 256 cm
size min.: 90 cm size max.: 99 cm
incubation min.: 68 days incubation max.: 75 days
fledging min.: 68 days fledging max.: 75 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 1  


Southern Ocean : Tasmania, Auckland Islands. Thalassarche cauta is an endemic breeder in Australia, with colonies on three islands off Tasmania.


Nests are a mound of soil, grass and roots, and are located on rock islands.


Breeding occurs between September and December. The nests are conical mounds, built from mud, bones, bird droppings, plant matter and rocks. In these nests a pair of albatross, which mate for life, lay a single egg each year which is incubated for 68 to 75 days. Whilst nesting, the parents are very territorial and will defend their nest aggressively. Both parents take turns in feeding and rearing the chick for nearly five months before it fledges. The juvenile then spends at least three years at sea, before returning to land to find a life-mate, and begin breeding annually. Shy albatross can live for up to 40 years.

Feeding habits

Thalassarche cauta usually forage singly and have been observed taking prey from the surface or occasionally making surface plunges or shallow dives. However, a study using time-depth recorders revealed T. cauta commonly plunge-dive within 3 m of the surface and can swim down to over 7 metres. The main foods are fish and cephlapods20, with crustaceans and tunicates also forming a part of the diet. It is a ship-follower and fish processing discharge comprises a significant proportion of its diet

Video Shy Albatross


copyright: Neil Robertson


This species breeds on just three islands. It may be susceptible to stochastic events and human activities, although one nesting site is moderately widely separated from the other two. For this reason it is treated as Near Threatened.
Shy Albatross status Near Threatened


Race cauta occurs commonly off S Australia and South Africa, but migratory strategy and route not well known; race salvini moves E to W coast of S America, where is common in zone of Humboldt Current; race eremita virtually sedentary, dispersing only to waters around Chatham Is; breeding adults of migratory races probably do not disperse far from nesting grounds. Records in N Hemisphere off Pacific coast of N America (Washington) and in N Red Sea (Elat, Israel).

Distribution map

Shy Albatross distribution range map

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *