Phoebetria palpebratalight-mantled albatross

Geographic Range

Light-mantled albatrosses, Phoebetria palpebrata, are widespread near the edge of the Antarctic pack ice and circumpolar throughout the high southern latitudes, between around 40° and 60° latitude. In November, the northernmost latitude at which light-mantled albatrosses are found is 42° south, in February it is 46° south. Young birds tend to stay towards polar, Antarctic waters, while adults are distributed throughout the range. (Brooke, 2004; Tickell, 2000)


Light-mantled albatrosses spend most of their lives in flight. A juvenile may spend many years at sea before returning to breed. They return to a few isolated breeding islands: Prince Edward Islands, Iles Crozet, Iles Kerguelen, Heard Island, MacDonald Islands, Macquarie Island, Auckland Islands, Campbell Islands, Antipodes Islands, and South Georgia. Nesting sites are located on the faces of steep, rocky cliffs on island coasts and some inland cliffs on these islands. Nest sites on cliffs can be between 15 to 2000 m from sea level. Light-mantled albatrosses are the deepest diving of the albatrosses, often diving to 5 m and once being recorded as deep as 12 m. (Prince, et al., 1994; Tickell, 2000)

Physical Description

Light-mantled albatrosses have long, thin wings that span about 2 meters. Their wedge-shaped tails have stiff central rectrices. They have stubby heads with smaller bills than other albatrosses. Males are slightly larger than females. The nape, mantle, back, scapulars, and rump are a pale ashy grey. Towards the head, tail, and along the wings, the plumage is dark grey brown merging to dark brown. The primaries have contrasting whitish shafts and the conceiled contour feathers are paler with underparts a dark grayish brown. Post-orbital crescents are formed by very short white feathers behind the eyes. The bill is black and the lower mandible is split on the outside by a longitudinal groove known as the sulcus. The sulcus contains a strip of colored skin that is continuous with the lower gape stripe and is pale blue or violet in color. (Brooke, 2004; Nunn and Stanley, 1998; Phillips, et al., 2003; Tickell, 2000)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    2.62 to 3.70 kg
    5.77 to 8.15 lb
  • Average mass
    3.00 kg
    6.61 lb
  • Range length
    79 to 89 cm
    31.10 to 35.04 in
  • Range wingspan
    183 to 218 cm
    72.05 to 85.83 in
  • Average wingspan
    200 cm
    78.74 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    9 cm3.O2/g/hr


Light-mantled albatrosses form committed pair bonds. One pair on Macquarie Island is known to have been together for 21 years. When light-mantled albatrosses are establishing a pair bond, males and females can be seen flying side by side silently in close formation. Landing and taking off are also important in courtship because mating must be done on the cliffs. A large proportion of females do the landing while the males stay put at nest sites. Displays can consist of sky calls and side-preens, among other movements and vocalizations. Displays conclude by the female taking off and the male following. (Tickell, 2000)

Light-mantled albatrosses take about seven months to complete a breeding cycle. Once the fledgling flies, parents have only three to four months before the next summer. This is not enough time to prepare to breed again, so they stay at sea for an entire summer and winter, this gives them at least 14 to 15 months between breeding seasons. On average, birds do not start breeding until 12 years of age, after that they fledge a chick every five years. Light-mantled albatrosses are also capable of breeding until at least age 32. (Thomas, et al., 1983; Tickell, 2000; Thomas, et al., 1983; Tickell, 2000; Thomas, et al., 1983; Tickell, 2000; Thomas, et al., 1983; Tickell, 2000)

  • Breeding interval
    There is at least 14 months between breeding attempts. There is at least 14 months between breeding seasons. There is at least 14 months between breeding seasons. There is at least 14 months between breeding seasons.
  • Breeding season
    In September copulation begins and by June adults and fledglings leave breeding islands. In September copulation begins and by June adults and fledglings leave the breeding islands. In September copulation begins and by June adults and fledglings leave the breeding islands. In September copulation begins and by June adults and fledglings leave the breeding islands.
  • Range eggs per season
    0 to 1
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    67 to 70 days
  • Average time to hatching
    68 days
  • Range fledging age
    139 to 157 days
  • Range time to independence
    139 to 157 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    12 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    12 years

Light-mantled albatrosses invest heavily in their offspring. Males and females incubate the egg for 70 days, sharing incubation in seven to nine shifts that last from 1 to 29 days in length, but average 2 to 3 days. This is the longest average incubation for any albatross species. During incubation adults may travel several thousand kilometers in order to obtain food for their hatchling. Young take 3 to 5 days to break out of their shells. Once they have hatched, parents brood them for 19 to 21 days. Mean fledging time is 150 days. Parents feed young every couple of days until they fledge. A hatchling grows to larger than the size of an adult and then loses weight before its first flight. (Tickell, 2000; Weimerskirch and Robertson, 1994)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


The rate of adult survival is about 97.3%. The breeding habitat of this species makes them difficult to study but, in a small sample, some individuals on South Georgia were thought to be over 40 years old. (Brooke, 2004; Croxall, 2008)


While in flight, light-mantled albatrosses spend about 77% of the time gliding, 23% of the time flap gliding, and 0% of the time flapping. Their small flight muscles rely on wind and ocean updrafts to support their long soaring times. (Tickell, 2000)

Home Range

While at sea, light-mantled albatrosses have a range of thousands of miles. In their nesting habitat, however, their home territory is a small rocky outcropping on a cliffside.

Communication and Perception

These albatrosses use visual displays and vocalizations to communicate with conspecifics. (Tickell, 2000)

Food Habits

Their long, pointed tongues with fleshy, backward-pointing gular spines allow this species to have different feeding habits than other albatrosses. They eat squid, fish, crustaceans, krill, penguin skin and feathers, and petrels (Procellariidae). Light-mantled albatrosses can deliver meals up to 1.5 kg to their young, up to one half of this mass is liquid. (Cooper and Klanges, 1995; Tickell, 2000)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • fish
  • mollusks
  • aquatic crustaceans


Giant petrels (Macronectes) are thought to be predators that are capable of preying on young albatrosses. Feral cats are also potential predators on breeding islands. However, the size and isolated nesting habitat of light-mantled albatrosses make them unlikely candidates for predation. (Tickell, 2000)

Ecosystem Roles

Five species of chewing lice have been identified from light-mantled albatrosses. They are also hosts of a new species of flea (Parapsyllus magellanicus). (Tickell, 2000)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

These seafaring birds rarely encounter humans except when they accidentally land on ships or are hooked by long lines used in fishing. (Tickell, 2000)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Light-mantled albatrosses are not known to have any negative effects on humans.

Conservation Status

Light-mantled albatrosses, along with other albatross species (Diomedeidae), are long-lived and slow to reproduce. They are increasingly being threatened by long-line fishing and by ingestion of plastic trash in the ocean. They are currently considered near threatened by the IUCN and populations are declining.


Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Barbara Kerkove (author), Northern Michigan University, Alec R. Lindsay (editor, instructor), Northern Michigan University.



lives on Antarctica, the southernmost continent which sits astride the southern pole.


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


active at dawn and dusk

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


eats mollusks, members of Phylum Mollusca


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


generally wanders from place to place, usually within a well-defined range.

oceanic islands

islands that are not part of continental shelf areas, they are not, and have never been, connected to a continental land mass, most typically these are volcanic islands.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


An aquatic biome consisting of the open ocean, far from land, does not include sea bottom (benthic zone).


an animal that mainly eats fish


the regions of the earth that surround the north and south poles, from the north pole to 60 degrees north and from the south pole to 60 degrees south.

saltwater or marine

mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


uses sight to communicate


2007. "BirdLife International" (On-line). Species factsheet: Phoebetria palpebrata. Accessed April 06, 2008 at

Brooke, M. 2004. Albatrosses and Petrels across the World. New York: Oxford University Press.

Cooper, J., N. Klanges. 1995. The diets and dietary segregation of sooty albatrosses (Phoebetria spp.) at subantarctic Marion Island. Antarctic Science, 7: 15-23.

Croxall, J. 2008. "Oldest Light-mantled Sooty Albatross" (On-line). Accessed April 04, 2008 at Email Correspondence.

Nunn, G., S. Stanley. 1998. Body Size Effects and Rates of Cytochrome b Evolution in Tube-Nosed Seabirds. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 15 (10): 1360-1371.

Phillips, R., J. Green, B. Phalan, J. Croxall, P. Butler. 2003. Chick metabolic rate and growth in three species of albatross: a comparative study. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology - Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology, 135 (1): 185-193.

Prince, P., N. Huin, H. Weimerskirch. 1994. Diving depths of albatrosses. Antarctic Science, 6: 353-354.

Thomas, G., J. Croxall, P. Prince. 1983. Breeding biology of the Light-mantled Sooty Albatross at South Georgia. Journal of Zoology, 199: 123-135.

Tickell, W. 2000. Albatrosses. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Weimerskirch, H., G. Robertson. 1994. Satellite tracking of light-mantled sooty albatrosses. Polar Biology, 14, 2: 123-126.