Sooty Albatross (Phoebetria fusca)

Sooty Albatross

[order] PROCELLARIIFORMES | [family] Diomedeidae | [latin] Phoebetria fusca | [authority] Hilsenberg, 1822 | [UK] Sooty Albatross | [FR] Albatros brun | [DE] Russalbatros | [ES] Albatros Ahumado | [NL] Zwarte Albatros


Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Phoebetria fusca IO, AO s


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

Medium-sized, sooty-brown albatross with diamond-shaped tail. Adult is uniform sooty-brown, slightly darker on sides of head. White crescent above, behind eye. Black bill with orange or yellow sulcus. Juvenile and immature essentially as adult. Dark, pale-billed giant-petrels are more bulky with shorter, stubbier wings. Light-mantled Sooty Albatross P. palpebrata has violet or bluish sulcus and paler mantle. P. fusca with worn plumage difficult to distinguish.

wingspan min.: 195 cm wingspan max.: 210 cm
size min.: 84 cm size max.: 89 cm
incubation min.: 65 days incubation max.: 75 days
fledging min.: 150 days fledging max.: 170 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 1  


Indian Ocean, Atlantic Ocean : South. Phoebetria fusca breeds on islands in the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The total annual breeding Pacific Oceanpulation is estimated at 13,200 – 14,500 pairs, consisting of c.5,000 pairs on Gough Island, 4,125-5,250 pairs in the Tristan da Cunha group (to UK), c. 1,200 pairs on Prince Edward and c. 1,200 pairs on Marion Island (South Africa), 2,080 – 2,200 pairs on the Crozet Islands16, and 470 pairs on Amsterdam Island (French Southern Territories)


The species feeds on fish, crustaceans, offal and squid and although solitary, individuals may forage at night in mixed-species flocks. It is thought to capture food by seizing prey from the water’s surface while swimming, by landing on top of prey, and it may follow fishing vessels for short periods.


It breeds in loose colonies of up to 50-60 nests. The breeding season extends through summer, eggs are laid in October and November, hatch in early to mid-December and chicks fledge in May. Successful pairs seldom breed in the following summer. A single egg is laid, with no replacement laying. Adults make a combination of long commuting flights early in the incubation period, looping searching flights later in incubation and linear searching during chick brooding. At three to four years old, the sooty albatross performs an elegant courtship display at a nest site. The pair bond formed following these displays may last for life, although the pairs will not begin to breed until they are 9 to 16 years. Laying occurs between September and December, with a single egg laid in a nest made from a mound of mud and plant matter. The egg is incubated by both parents for 65 – 75 days. Parental care continues after hatching, and the chick is fed and guarded for the next five months, at which time it leaves the nest and becomes independent

Feeding habits

It breeds on cliffs or steep slopes where it can land and take off right next to the nest, outside breeding period pelagic.

Video Sooty Albatross


copyright: Peter Fraser


This species qualifies as Endangered owing to a very rapid decline over three generations (90 years), probably owing to interactions with fisheries. However, trends at three sites have been more severe, and the species could be uplisted to Critically Endangered if these trends are found to be more general.
Introduced rats and cats on the Kerguelen Islands are not known to affect the species, but cats and rats on Amsterdam Island are known to impact the species sufficiently to cause population-level changes. The harvest of chicks and adults in the Tristan group is banned and illegal poaching is now probably very rare. The species could be affected by avian cholera and erysipelas bacteria on Amsterdam Island.
Sooty Albatross status Endangered


Disperses over temperate waters of S Atlantic and Indian Oceans 30-60 degrees S, normally from Argentina E to Tasmania, occasionally to New South Wales; vagrant to E Pacific, 90 degrees W.

Distribution map

Sooty Albatross distribution range map

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