Northern royal albatross -- 北方皇信天翁 (Diomedea sanfordi)

Northern royal albatross in flight
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Northern royal albatross fact file

Northern royal albatross description

GenusDiomedea (1)

With a wingspan of up to 3.2 metres, the northern royal albatross is one of the world’s largest flying birds (3). The plumage is white with completely black upperwings, and juveniles have some black flecking on the upperparts (5). The bill is pale pink with a diagnostic black edge to the upper beak (2) (5).

Diomedea epomophora sanfordi.
Size (beak to tail): 1.15 m (2)
Wingspan: up to 3.2 m (3)

Northern royal albatross biology

The northern royal albatross usually pairs for life, with new pairs performing elaborate courtship displays that include actions like ‘bill-circling’, ‘sky-pointing’, ‘flank-touching’ with the bill, and full spreading of the wings, typically accompanied by a variety of calls. Breeding occurs every two years if successful (6). Previously mated pairs usually use the same nest site from season to season (7), and usually return to their breeding grounds between mid-October and mid-November, with the female laying her single egg a month later (6). After 79 days incubation the hatchling emerges, and the young fledges 240 days later from September to October the following year. These long-lived birds return to their natal colony at four to eight years of age but do not start to breed until at least nine years, and have been recorded to live up to at least 61 years in the wild (6).

The northern royal albatross feeds mainly on fish and squid, supplemented by crustaceans and carrion (2).


Northern royal albatross range

The majority of northern royal albatrosses breed on Forty-Fours, Big and Little Sister Islands (Chatham Islands), but breeding also occurs on Taiaroa Head (Otago Peninsula, South Island) and Enderby Island (Auckland Islands), New Zealand. Non-breeding birds occupy the Southern Oceans (2).

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Northern royal albatross habitat

The northern royal albatross typically nests on the flat summits of small islands, but in the non-breeding season inhabits the open oceans (2).


Northern royal albatross status

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List 2006 (1), and listed on Annex 1 of ACAP (4).

IUCN Red List species status – Endangered


Northern royal albatross threats

A storm that hit the Chatham Islands in 1985 had a dramatic impact on the reproductive success of the northern royal albatross, reducing soil cover and destroying all vegetation so that nests had to be constructed with stones, or eggs simply laid on bare rock. As a result, annual reproductive success plummeted due to egg breakage, high temperatures and flooding in temporary pools. Introduced predators pose an additional threat, with stoats (Mustela erminea) and cats known to take eggs and chicks at Taiaroa Head. Albatrosses are notoriously vulnerable to becoming entangled in fishing equipment whilst feeding on baited hooks or catch, and mortality due to longline fishing activities may pose a future threat to this species (2).


Northern royal albatross conservation

All populations of the northern royal albatross are monitored annually, and predator control initiatives at Taiaroa Head during the breeding season have dramatically improved annual reproductive success rates. Feral cattle, rabbits and mice have all been eradicated from Enderby Island, and Taiaroa Head and Enderby Island are established as nature reserves (2). The northern royal albatross is also listed on Annex 1 of the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP), a multilateral agreement which seeks to conserve albatrosses and petrels by coordinating international activity to mitigate known threats to these magnificent seabirds (4).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

For more information on the northern royal albatross see:



Authenticated (28/08/2007) by Pierre Jouventin, National Centre of Scientific Research, Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive, Montpellier, France.



  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2007)
  2. BirdLife International (August, 2007)
  3. Save the Albatross (August, 2007)
  4. Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (August, 2007)
  5. (August, 2007)
  6. Australian Government Department of Environment and Heritage. (2001) Recovery Plan for Albatrosses and Giant-petrels. Wildlife Scientific Advice, Natural Heritage Division, Environment Australia, Australia. Available at:
  7. Animal Diversity Web (August, 2007)

Image credit

Northern royal albatross in flight  
Northern royal albatross in flight

© Ray Wilson

Ray Wilson


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