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Thalassarche melanophris (Temminck, 1828)

provided by EG-BAMM, Richard Phillips & Jose Xavier

Description

Thalassarche melanophris (first named Diomedea melanophris by Coenraad Jacob Temminck), is a large seabird of the albatross family, Diomedeidae; it is the most numerous, widespread and common member of its family around the Southern Ocean (particularly in the Atlantic sector). Note that the spelling melanophrys should be changed to melanophris following the decision of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature.

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Species details

Photos

  • Thalassarche melanophris - Black-browed albatross in flight - Jose Xavier
  • Thalassarche melanophris - Black-browed albatross pair on their nest - Jose Xavier
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Species distribution

The Black-browed Albatross has a circumpolar distribution, breeding on twelve main island groups throughout the Southern Oceans, as well as two small islets in the Chilean fjords. In the Atlantic Ocean, it breeds on the Falklands and South Georgia. In the Pacific Ocean it breeds on Islas Diego Ramirez, Islas Ildefonso, Isla Diego De Almagro, Islotes Evangelistas, Campbell Island, Antipodes Islands, and Macquarie Island. Finally, in the Indian Ocean it breeds on the Crozet Islands, Kerguelen Islands, Heard and McDonald Islands. Note a single pair nests on the Snares Islands in the Pacific Ocean. This particular species of albatross prefers to forage over shelf and shelf-break areas, and to a lesser extent at frontal systems, including the Antarctic Polar Front. Birds from the Falkland Islands winter on the Patagonian Shelf, those from South Georgia mainly in the Benguela Upwelling region and a small proportion on the Patagonian Shelf or in Australasian waters, birds from Kerguelen in Australasian waters, and the Chilean birds winter on the Patagonian Shelf, in the Humboldt Upwelling region, and can even make it as far as New Zealand (ACAP 2010, Phillips et al. 2005). The Black-browed Albatross is the most likely species of albatross to be found in the North Atlantic due to a northerly migratory tendency. There have been 20 possible sightings in continental shelf waters of the United States (Dunn & Alderfer 2006).

Black-browed albatrosses have thick insulative plumage and, like all albatrosses, are adapted for long-distance flight; as such, they are not good divers. Yet, based on deployments of capillary tube depth gauges, this species has been recorded to dive down to 5 metres (Prince et al. 1994).

This species normally nests on steep slopes covered with tussock grass and sometimes on cliffs; however, on the Falklands it nests mainly on flat grassland on the coast.

During incubation, breeding birds tend to remain in nearby shelf, shelf-break and shelf-slope waters, or use frontal systems to the north of their colonies. At Campbell Island, Black-browed Albatross show a bimodal foraging strategy, alternating between short trips to shelf areas around the breeding site and long trips to the Polar Front (Waugh et al. 1999). Birds wintering in the Benguela Upwelling region also showed a mixed feeding strategy, alternating trips over deep, oceanic waters with periods spent over continental shelf waters (Petersen et al. 2008). There is marked sexual segregation in at-sea distributions during incubation for birds breeding at the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. The Black-browed Albatross feeds on fish, squid, crustaceans, carrion, and fishery discards, mostly by surface and near surface feeding (ACAP 2010). The exact composition of its diet varies depending on locality and year and in South Georgia (Xavier et al. 2003), where the abundance of mackerel icefish Champsocephalus gunnari is related to the birds' breeding performance.

The Black-browed Albatross is an annual breeder, returning to colonies in September and laying one egg between late September and early November, with a tendency towards earlier breeding at the more northerly colonies. Incubation is carried out by both sexes and lasts 68 to 71 days. After hatching in December to January, the chick is brooded for 11-33 days, and takes 120 to 130 days in total to fledge (in April to May). Some juveniles return to the colony after two to three years, but most not until they are five or six years old, although the median age of first breeding is not until the 10th year.

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