Black-browed Albatross (Diomedea melanophrys)


The architypal member of the Mollymawks or southern small albatrosses. Currently monotypic having recently been split from Campbell Albatross. The name is derived from the distinctive dark eyebrow and dark gray-black patch around the eye.

Black-browed Albatrossshowing broad black edging to underside of wings. At sea off South Georgia January 1999. Photograph copyright of Ron Saldino©, 1999.


A medium-sized albatross. The underwing has a prominent black leading edge, with gray bases to the dark primaries and a gray to blackish-grey trailing edge enclosing an obvious area of white. The upperwings are solid black. Adults easily identified at a distance by the sizable yellow bill ending in an orange or pinkish tip. The dark eye patch extends backwards as a flare along the top of the auriculars, creating a beautiful effect.

Adult Black-browed Albatross showing uppersurface of wings. At sea off South Georgia January 1999. Photograph copyright of Ron Saldino©, 1999.

Juveniles are similar to adults except for a gray-brown wash across the nape and lower neck creating a broad collar. At a distance, the darkest individual may appear hooded. The bill is olive brown and becomes lighter with age but retains a dark tip, which sometimes extends along the cutting edge.


Where and When

Breeds annually in southern Chile on islands off Tierra del Fuego and Diego de Almagro, on the Falklands, South Georgia, The Crozets, Kerguelen Island, Heard Island, McDonald Island, Marion and Prince Edward Islands, Macquarie Island and the Antipodes Islands.

Nest in tightly packed colonies situated on the tops of cliffs and steep hillsides where they can make use of the constant wind  for take-offs and landings. The nest is a mound of mud and grass packed into a column shape with the top formed into a bowl to hold the egg. The finished nest is about 45-cm high and 30-cm across. In South Georgia, birds return to their breeding ground in mid-September with egg- laying beginning during the second week of October. Incubation of the single egg lasts for 68 ? 72 days with fledglings leaving the nest in April, about 17 weeks after hatching.

In South Georgia, Black-browed albatrosses colonies are mainly along the north-west and south-east coastlines, with the largest colonies on Willis Islands, Bird Island, Annenkov Island, and Cooper Island. Breeding birds feed predominantly on krill and squid.

Black-browed Albatross tending to its chick on Saunders Island in The Falklands, January 1999. Photograph copyright of Ron Saldino©, 1999.

Photographs on the web

Brian Patteson has posted an excellent series of shots of an immature photographed off Virginia on 6 Feb 1999. Ventral surface in flight, dorsal surface in flight, side view in flight, swimming on water, and a dramatic head-on approach. This constitutes the first photographically documented record for North America.

Adult in flight Nice shots of upper and undersurfaces of an adult in flight, taken by Greg Lasley in January at sea off Antarctica.

Immature in flight Taken off western Australia. By Frank O'Connor, and on his web site.

Adult in flight by Peter and Barbara Barham.


Many thanks to Ron Saldino for generously allowing me to use his photographs.


Gales R. (1998) Albatross populations: status and threats. In 'Albatross Biology and Conservation'. (Eds. Robertson, G. and Gales, R.) Chp 3, p 20-45. Surrey Beatty and Sons Ltd.

Copson, G.R. (1988) The status of the Black-browed and Grey-headed albatrosses on Macquarie Island. Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania 122(1): p137-141

Howard, P.F. (1954) Banding of the Black-browed Albatross at Heard Island and Macquarie Island. Emu 54: p256.

Kirkwood, R.J. and Mitchell, P.J. (1992) The status of the Black-browed Albatross Diomedea melanophrys at Heard Island. Emu 92: p111-114.

Mlodinow, S.G. (1999) Southern hemisphere albatrosses in North American waters. Birders Journal 8(3): p131-141.

Prince, P. A. and Rodwell, S. P. (1994) Aging immature Black-browed and Grey-headed Albatrosses using moult, bill and plumage characterisitics. Emu 94: 246-254.

Copyright © 2002 All rights reserved. Angus Wilson
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