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The massive Wandering Albatross is one of the largest birds in the world — the largest when measured by some metrics — and one of the two largest members of the Diomedea family of birds. But how large is “largest,” and how does that compare with other birds in the world?
|Species Name:||Diomedea exulans|
|Range:||South Georgia, Africa|
The Wandering Albatross is found in South Georgia in Africa but is a far-ranging bird. It’s known as the ‘wandering’ albatross due to its love for the sky. These birds spend most of their lives in flight, landing only to eat and breed.
Some Wandering Albatrosses were found to circumnavigate the entire Southern Ocean up to three times a year, and a banded Wandering Albatross was once recorded, traveling 3,700 miles in just 12 days.
As a result, these birds can be found in many different subantarctic islands throughout the year, including the Southern Georgian Islands, Kerguelen Islands, and as far out as the Macquarie Islands.
The Wandering Albatross has the largest wingspan of any bird globally, typically clocking in between 99 and 138 inches! One of the birds was even measured with a wingspan of 146 inches!
|Wingspan Range||Average Wingspan|
|99-138 inches||146 inches|
The wingspan is measured from the tip of the longest primary feather of one wing to the opposite feather. The specimen will need to be held down on its stomach; the wrist and ankle joints of the wing will be held still while the measuring takes place.
The Wandering Albatross wingspan is the largest in the world. Albatrosses are giant birds in general in this respect; six of the top 10 longest wingspans belong to albatrosses. The Wandering Albatross is rivaled by the Great White Pelican, which comes in second place by over 6 inches on average. Of the top five longest wingspans, three belong to other species of albatross, with the remaining two being pelicans.
While some birds have a longer maximum wingspan on average, the Wandering Albatross reigns supreme in minimum length, giving it a staggering 122-inch average wingspan.
|Bird of Prey||Wingspan Range||Average Wingspan|
|Southern Royal Albatross||114–129 inches
|Dalmatian Pelican||96–138 inches
|Amsterdam Albatross||110–130 inches
|Great White Pelican||89-142 inches
Bird wingspans, shapes, and sizes are determined by the bird’s environment and dietary needs. The shapes and sizes of their wings depend on how far and how fast they need to fly or glide. Smaller, rounded wings are suitable for fast take-offs. Long, pointed wings are good for reaching high speeds, while long, narrow wings are good for soaring over the water.
Albatrosses spend most of their lives in the air, soaring over the ocean for most of their lives. As a result, their wings are long and somewhat broad, making them suitable for catching thermal updrafts over the sea. They take a good amount of energy to move and flap, so soaring without moving their wings allows them to conserve energy as they move.
Albatross wings are so long that they can travel over 72 feet forward before they lose three feet of altitude as they fly. In this way, they can travel hundreds of miles a day and hundreds of thousands of miles a year.
Their long travel distances have caused some to suggest that they sleep while flying, but geolocator bands have shown that this is not true. While some birds have been observed sleeping while flying, Albatrosses seem to land in the water to sleep and resume flying when they wake.
There are few birds so majestically large as the Wandering Albatross, though not for lack of trying. The Wandering Albatross is currently listed as a vulnerable species, with many populations in steep decline. We should all be working together to maintain and revitalize these gorgeous birds.
Looking for information on different wingspans? Check out:
Featured Image Credit: Hugh Lansdown, Shutterstock
Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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