Sooty albatross (Phoebetria fusca)

French: Albatros brun
GenusPhoebetria (1)
SizeHead-body length: 84 – 89 cm (2)
Wingspan: 203 cm (2)
Male weight: 2.7 kg (2)
Female weight: 2.4 kg (2)

The sooty albatross is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List 2004 (1) and is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (3), as well as Appendix II of the Bonn Convention (2). It is also listed as a Vulnerable Species on Schedule 2 of the New South Wales Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (2).

Named after the sooty brown colour of its feathers, this albatross is medium-sized with a diamond-shaped tail. The sides of the head are slightly darker brown than the rest of the body (4) and the legs and feet are pale grey (2). A white crescent surrounds the eye, and the bill is black with a yellow-orange groove in the lower jaw (4).

Spending most of the year at sea in the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans, the sooty albatross nests on many of the islands in these oceans, including Gough Island, Tristan da Cunha Islands, Prince Edward and Marion Islands, St. Paul Island, Amsterdam Island and the Crozet and Kerguelen archipelagos (4) (5).

Inhabits sub-Antarctic and subtropical marine waters. Nests amongst vegetation on inland and seaward cliffs of oceanic islands (2) (5).

At three to four years old, the sooty albatross performs an elegant courtship display at a nest site. The pair bond formed following these displays may last for life, although the pairs will not begin to breed until they are 9 to 16 years. Laying occurs between September and December, with a single egg laid in a nest made from a mound of mud and plant matter. The egg is incubated by both parents for 65 – 75 days. Parental care continues after hatching, and the chick is fed and guarded for the next five months, at which time it leaves the nest and becomes independent (2).

The sooty albatross eats cephalopods, fish, crustaceans and carrion, but unlike many other albatross species, it seldom follows fishing vessels to catch food (4) (5).

Introduced rats are known to consume albatross eggs and the sooty albatross is thought to be vulnerable to avian cholera and the erysipelas bacteria (2) (6). Pollution from plastics, oils and chemicals is also a threat (2).

The sooty albatross is protected in some of its range; it exists in one World Heritage Site, one Special Nature Reserve, and several other nature reserves. There are continuing population monitoring and foraging studies, and it has been proposed that key sites are re-assessed regularly (4).

For further information on this species, see:

For further information on World Heritage Sites, see:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:

Authenticated (15/05/07) by Ross Wanless and Andrea Angel, Percy Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology.

  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2005)
  2. New South Wales National Parks Service (January, 2005)
  3. CMS (January, 2005)
  4. BirdLife International (January, 2005)
  5. Wanless, R. (2007) Pers. comm.
  6. Weimerskirsch, H. (2004) Diseases threaten Southern Ocean albatrosses. Polar Biology, 27(6): 374 - 379.