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Black-browed Albatross
Steeple Jason, Falkland Islands
January 8, 2010


Black-browed albatross colony on Saunders Island, Falkland Islands

The Black-browed Albatross, Thalassarche melanophrys, is a large seabird of the albatross family Diomedeidae. It is an endangered species on the IUCN Red List, but is the most widespread and common albatross.

The subspecies T. m. melanophrys breeds in the Cape Horn area, the Falkland Islands (mostly Steeple Jason and Grand Jason islands), South Georgia and in the Indian Ocean sector on Crozet Islands, Kerguelen Islands and Heard Island and McDonald Islands. The Campbell Albatross (T. impavida) was formerly believed to be a subspecies of this species.

The Black-browed Albatross is a medium-sized albatross, at 80-95 cm (32-38 in) long with a 200-235 cm (79-93 in) wingspan and an average weight of 3.7 kg (8.2 lbs). Like the other albatross species known as "mollymawks", it can be distinguished from the Wandering Albatross by the wholly dark upperwings, dark tail band and smaller size. The features that identify it from other mollymawks are the dark eyestripe which gives it its name, a broad black edging to the white underside of its wings, white head and orange bill, tipped darker orange. In young birds the underwings are darker, the head grey and the bill grey, tipped black. They are similar to Grey-headed Albatrosses but the latter have wholly dark bills and more complete dark head markings.

The Black-browed Albatross is circumpolar in the southern oceans. It is the most likely albatross to be found in the North Atlantic due to a northerly migratory tendency.

Although this is a rare occurrence, on several occasions a Black-browed Albatross has summered in Scottish Gannet colonies (Bass Rock, Hermaness and now Sula Sgeir) for a number of years. Ornithologists believe that it was the same bird, known as Albert, who lives in north Scotland. It is believed that the bird was blown off course into the North Atlantic over 40 years ago, and it is suspected that the bird is over 47 years old. A similar incident took place in the gannet colony in the Faroe Islands island of Mykines, where a Black-browed Albatross lived among the gannets for over 30 years. This incident is the reason why an albatross is referred to as a 'Gannet King' (Faroese language: súlukongur) in Faroese.

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