The Royal Albatross
Albatrosses are the world’s largest seabirds. They normally breed on remote islands and spend at least 85 percent of their lives at sea, well away from land and human view. Dunedin’s Taiaroa Head is the only mainland Royal Albatross breeding colony in the world.
Renowned ocean wanderers, they travel vast distances from their breeding grounds to feed. The royal albatross, with its massive wingspan of up to 3.3 metres flies an estimated 190,000 kilometres a year.
The breeding birds arrive at Taiaroa Head on Otago Peninsula in September. They nest during early November and within the following three weeks an egg is laid – one only per pair, each two years.
The parents share incubation duty in spells of two to eight days over a period of 80 days. The chicks hatch from late January to early February. The parents take turns at guarding the chick for the first 35 days to protect it from predators. It is fed on demand for the first 20 days, later the frequency of meals decreases to three or four times a week. Meal quantity can be up to 2 kg of squid and octopus per day in winter. From early August the chick is fed less and in September, when fully fledged, the chick tests its outstretched wings and eventually takes off with the aid of a strong wind.
The young Royal Albatross will spend the next three to five years at sea, never touching land during that time. Many then return to this unique headland to start another generation of Royals of Dunedin’s Taiaroa Head. Nearly a year after their arrival at Taiaroa Head, the chicks’ parents finally leave the colony to spend a year at sea before returning to breed again.
The Royal Albatross Centre, The Otago Peninsula Trust, and the Department of Conservation combine to protect and preserve the Albatross of Taiaroa Head and have initiated many research projects alongside the University of Otago so that we may better understand these majestic seabirds.