Southern Royal Albatross (Diomedea epomophora)

Southern Royal Albatross

[order] PROCELLARIIFORMES | [family] Diomedeidae | [latin] Diomedea epomophora | [authority] Lesson, 1825 | [UK] Southern Royal Albatross | [FR] Albatros royal | [DE] Konigsalbatros | [ES] Albatros real | [NL] Koningsalbatros


Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Diomedea epomophora PO Campbell and Auckland islands, NZ


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

Huge, white-and-black albatross. Juvenile, white head, neck, upper mantle, rump and underparts. White mantle flecked black. Dark black-brown upperwing with white flecks on coverts and white leading edge. White tail, tipped black-brown. White underwing with black tip. With maturity, back and tail become white. Starting at leading edge near shoulder, upperwing-coverts become increasingly white. All ages, light pink bill (darker pink when chick-rearing) with black cutting edge on upper mandible. Legs flesh. Adult males are whitest albatrosses. Northern Royal Albatross D. sanfordi has different underwing pattern, no white on upperwing, and dark leading edge

Listen to the sound of Southern Royal Albatross

[audio: Royal Albatross.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

recorded by Frank Lambert

wingspan min.: 305 cm wingspan max.: 351 cm
size min.: 107 cm size max.: 122 cm
incubation min.: 77 days incubation max.: 81 days
fledging min.: 230 days fledging max.: 250 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 1  


Pacific Ocean : Campbell and Auckland islands, NZ. Diomedea epomophora breeds on Campbell Island (99% of the total Pacific Oceanpulation), on Adams, Enderby and Auckland Islands (Auckland Islands group), and on Taiaroa Head (Otago Peninsula, South Island), New Zealand.


The southern royal albatross spends most of its time soaring over the open oceans, and only comes to land to breed. Nesting typically occurs on tussock grassland slopes, ridges and plateaus


It nests on tussock grassland slopes, ridges, and plateaus. A female Royal albatross lays every other year its egg in mid-November. Both parents will incubate the egg for about 79 days, and rear the young which fledge after a period of about 240 days. Juveniles do not return to their natal colony until four to eight years of age, but these long-lived birds do not begin breeding until nine to eleven years.

Feeding habits

It feeds primarily on squid and fish, supplemented by salps, crustacea and carrion. Foraging range During incubation, breeding birds from Campbell Island foraged mostly within 1,250 km of the colonies over shallow (<1500 m deep) shelf and shelf break waters of the Campbell Plateau north to southern New Zealand and over the Chatham Rise, commuting directly to locally productive sites

Video Southern Royal Albatross


copyright: Josep del Hoyo


Although current population trends are assumed to be stable, this species qualifies as Vulnerable because it has a very small range, breeding on four islands, although largely confined to just one, with a fifth mainland population comprising only hybrid birds. It is therefore highly susceptible to stochastic effects and human impacts.
The population is thought to be recovering after human predation, farming and introduced mammals caused reductions in all populations until the 1930s, extirpating the Enderby and Auckland Islands populations by the late 1800s2. Pigs and cats still take eggs and chicks on Auckland Island. On Campbell and Enderby Dracophyllum scrub is spreading, possibly due to climatic warming, and may reduce breeding habitat. A possible decrease in the population during the 1970s – early 1980s coincided with the peak in long-line fishing in the New Zealand region. Southern Royal Albatross are caught by longliners and trawlers in Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans, and off the east and west coasts of South America
Southern Royal Albatross status Vulnerable


Disperses widely over Southern Ocean after breeding; most birds probably move E, perhaps in circumpolar movement; fair numbers occur off both coasts of S America, many apparently wintering in SW Atlantic; a few off S Africa (mainly sanfordi) and Australia, especially Tasmania. Not recorded N of equator.

Distribution map

Southern Royal Albatross distribution range map

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