Northern Royal Albatross (Diomedea sanfordi)


Closely related to Southern Royal Albatross and considered conspecific until recently.

Underside of a near-adult a near-adult Northern Royal Albatross photographed on the Chatham Rise off New Zealand. The black edging is restricted to an extremely narrow trailing edge and the leading edge of the forewing. The bases of the primaries are soild black.


Similar to the whiter taxa [allospecies] of wandering albatross but clearly separated with good views by the black cutting edges to the upper mandible.

Although most adults are identifiable to species with good views, a few many not and are best left as 'Royal Albatross spp'! The main problem is that younger Southern Royal Albatross have solidly dark upperwings typical of adult Northerns. Subadult birds of both species have dark brown spots (feather tips) scattered across the lower back and upper tail coverts, scattered brown tips to the tail feathers and some brown feathers on the crown. This contrasts with adults of both species which have solidly white backs and heads. Typical of albatrosses, there is considerble variety in the retention of immature characters. For example, some Southern Royal Albatrosses may show extensive white on the upper surface of the inner wings, yet retain dark flecks on the crown and tail.

Northern Royal Albatross tend to be smaller than Southern Royal Albatross but this is probably of limited utility expect in the hand. Birds with a tarsus measurement of less than 122 mm are likely to be Northern Royal Albatross. However, this measurement should be used with caution and preferably supported by additional characters (Onley and Bartle 1999).

Where and When

Non-breeding birds wanderers throughout the southern oceans, many reaching South America and Southern Africa.

An endemic breeder to New Zealand. The majority nest on the Chatham Islands (6,500 pairs) with a few (15-20 pairs) on Taiaroa Head, Otago.

Good view of the upper surface of a near-adult Northern Royal Albatross photographed on the Chatham Rise off New Zealand. Note the small area of white at the base of the the wings, especially on the leading edge of the wing.


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.

Robertson, C.J.R. (1993) Survival and longevity of the Northern Royal Albatross Diomedea epomophora sanfordi at Taiaroa Head 1937-93. The Emu 93(4): 269.

Westerskov, K. (1960) Field identification and sex determination of the Royal Albatross. Notornis 9: 1-6.

Copyright © 2002 All rights reserved. Angus Wilson
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