Chatham Albatross (Diomedea eremita)

Taxonomy

A member of the "Shy Albatross" species complex and formerly lumped with White-capped Albatross, Salvin's Albatross and Shy Albatross. This taxonomy may be subject to revision but is adopted here largely to highlight the specific problems faced by the different breeding populations and focus attention on their at-sea identification.


 

Identification

Slightly smaller than Shy and Salvin's Albatrosses with proportionally shorter bill. Adults readily identified by solid gray hood and solid 'banana-yellow' bill. The hood is darker than that of White-capped and Salvin's Albatrosses, and contrasts sharply with the white chest and underparts. Underwing pattern very similar to Salvin's Albatross. Adults differ from Shy and Salvin's in having a uniform dark-gray hood that is not obviously white-capped.


 

Where and When

Found mainly in seas around Chatham Island group (E of Christchurch, New Zealand) but ranges to the eastern and southern coasts of New Zeland and into the central South Pacific. Breeding is restricted to the 'Pyramid Rock' in the Chatham Islands. The nests are built on rocky ledges and the steep slopes of this tiny but spectacular island. An estimated 1,200-1,500 chicks fledge each year and between 1993 and 1995 some 2,100 were banded. The breeding population estimated at 3,200 to 4,200 pairs (aerial survey in the 1970s) but land-based counts in 1999/2000 logged 5,333 occupied nests. With the addition of non-breeding birds, the total world population may be in the order of 18,000 to 20,000 pairs (reviewed in Gales, 1998).


The Pyramid Rock presents an amazing sight as it looms on the southeastern approach to the Chatham Islands. Chatham Albatross cover the upper slopes and ledges. There is a large cave on the south side of the islet. Photo copyright of Angus Wilson.

On the basis of satellite tracking and other observations, it appears that most Chatham Albatross disperse across the south Pacific Ocean west to Tasmania and east to the Humbolt Current off Chile and Peru. During April to July birds can be found in Peruvian coastal waters north to 68 degrees. Chatham Albatross are also a rare vagrant to SE Australia and at least one has reached South Africa (Ryan 2002). During the 1980's two Chatham Albatrosses were regular visitors to Albatross Island in the Bass Strait between Tasmania and mainland Australia (Tickell 2000).

Chatham Albatross is listed as Critically endangered by the IUCP. This species is confined to an extremely small area when breeding and risks include habitat loss, destruction of local environment (eg. oil spill) and disease. The vegetation and soil on Pyramid Rock is subject to periodic damage from storms and this affects the stability of the nests. The Pyramid is privately-owned and some chick harvesting may occur.
 

Literature

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.

Ryan, P.G. 2002. Chatham Albatross Thalassarche eremita: new to Africa. Bulletin of the African Bird Club. 9(1):43-44.

Tickell, W. L. N. (2000) Albatrosses. Yale University Press.



Copyright © 2002 All rights reserved. Angus Wilson
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