Light-mantled Albatross (Phoebetria palpebrata) [Forster, 1785]


Forms a species pair with the Sooty Albatross, and in the South Atlantic nest on the same islands. Some times kown as ‘Blue Bird’, a named used by 19th Centuary sealers because it looked blue in strong Antarctic light.

Incubating Light-mantled Sooty Albatross on a cliff ledge. The nest is a low mound made from mud with some plant material, and usually lined with grasses. Photographed on Enderby in the Auckland Islands, New Zealand, November 2001. Copyright of Angus Wilson.


Arguably the most beautiful albatross. In flight, has a distinctive cruciform-like shape created by the combination of thin wings, long tail and long neck. This is evident at great distances and on high soaring birds. The wings are thinner than other albatrosses and can be useful in spotting distant birds in poor light conditions or fog. The wings are usually held slightly bowed in flight, again a useful feature in birds approaching or going away from the boat.

Light-mantled Sooty Albatross is highly acrobatic and pairs will use ships as an impromptu display ground, riding the updrafts created by the ships passage (per. obs). Sometimes it seems as if rival males will try to impress a female with their skills at mirroring her movements. Will also give an eery call if flight.

The most likely confusion is with closely-related Sooty Albatross which lacks the pale mantle and has a blue-white rather than creamy-orange line (sulcus) along the cutting edge of the bill.

Where and When

World population estimated at 150,000 individuals with some 25,000 breeding pairs.  Approximately 1000 pairs nest on Australia's Macquarie Island and there are up to 4000 pairs on South Georgia.  Breed every other year. The species is suffering heavily from long-line fishing.

More of a ship follower than Sooty Albatross. Most often seen near accessible breeding islands such as South Georgia or around the Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand. Possible in the Humbolt Current off South America, perhaps explaining the remarkable record from the Cordell Bank, California on 17 July 1994 (Stallcup and Terrill, 1996).

Light-mantled Albatross at sea off South Georgia January 1999. Photograph copyright of Ron Saldino©, 1999.

Photographs on the web

Adults 2 shots, including one magnificent flight shot showing the sliver mantle, taken in South Georgia by Greg Lasley.

Adult In flight banking away from the camera showing silvery mantle. Taken in January off Maquarie Island, New Zealand by Tony Palliser and posted on his pelagic web site.

Photographs in the literature

Enticott and Tipling (1997) p.36 panels 3-5 (adults in flight and landed, South Georgia)

Howell and Pyle (1997) Fig. 3. Scott Terills close-up photo of first Californian record (17 jun 1994) on water.

Howell and Pyle (1997) Fig. 4 - a more distant black and white shot of first Californian record (17 jun 1994) with Black-footed Albatross.


Green, K., Kerry, K.R., Disney, T., Clarke, M.R. (1998) Dietary studies of light-mantled sooty albatrosses Phoebetria palpebrata from Macquarie and Heard Islands. Marine Ornithology 26. 19-26;

Howell, S. N. G. and Pyle, P. (1997) Twentieth report of the California Bird Records Committee: 1994 Records. Western Birds 28(3): 117-141.

Kerry, K.R. and Garland, B.R. (1984) The breeding biology of the Light-mantled Sooty Albatross Phoebetria palpebrata on Macquarie Island. The Tasmanian Naturalist 79: p21-23

Kerry, K.R. and Colback, G.C. (1972) Follow the band! Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses on Macquarie Island. The Australian Bird Bander 10(3): p61-62.

Kerry, K.R. (1972) Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses on Macquarie Island. Australian Bird Bander 10(3): p61-62.

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

Stallcup, R. and Terrill, S. (1996) Albatrosses and the Cordell Bank. Birding 28: 106-110.

Weimerskirch, H. and Robertson, G. (1994) Satellite tracking of Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses. Polar Biology, 14: p123-126.

Copyright © 2002 All rights reserved. Angus Wilson
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