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Southern Royal Albatross
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The Southern Royal Albatross, Diomedea epomophora, is a large seabird from the albatross family. At an average wingspan of around , it is the second largest albatross, behind the Wandering Albatross.
Albatrosses belong to Diomedeidae family and come from the Procellariiformes order, along with Shearwaters, Fulmars, Storm-petrels, and Diving-petrels. They share certain identifying features. First, they have nasal passages that attach to the upper bill called naricorns; the nostrils of the Albatross are on the sides of the bill. The bills of Procellariiformes are also unique in that they are split into between 7 and 9 horny plates. Finally, they produce a stomach oil made up of wax esters and triglycerides that is stored in the proventriculus. This is used against predators as well as an energy rich food source for chicks and for the adults during their long flights. It was once considered conspecific with the Northern Royal Albatross (Diomedea sanfordi) as the Royal Albatross and the split into two species is almost universally accepted. BirdLife International, Brooke, and Robertson & Nunn. Clements still does not recognize the split, and the SACC has recognized the need for a proposal.
Diomedea antipodensis breaks into Diomedea referring to Diomedes, whose companions turned to birds.
The Southern Royal Albatross has a length of and a mean weight of . Males are about heavier than females. Average wingspan has been reported from , with an upper limit of about . The Wandering albatross can exceed this species in maximum size and averages slightly larger, but the two species are close enough in dimensions that size cannot be used to distinguish between them. The juvenile has a white head, neck, upper mantle, rump, and underparts. There are black speckles on the mantle, and they have dark brown or black wings with white flecks on coverts. Their tail is white except for the black tip as is the under-wing. Young birds soon lose the black on their tail and backs. White appears on the upperwing gradually, as speckles starting from the leading edge. All ages have a pink bill with black on the cutting edge on the upper mandible, and the legs are flesh. Young birds with all dark upperwings can be hard to differentiate from the Northern Royal Albatross. There are clear but subtle differences compared to the Wandering Albatross, with the Southern having a clean black and white appearance, lacking the peach neck spot often found on the Wandering Albatross. Most Wandering Albatross have dark feathers in the tail and crown and the white in this species expands from the middle of the wing, in larger blotches. The bill colour is also slightly paler, as well as the dark cutting edge along the middle. The average life span is 42.3 years.
The majority of the world's population of Southern Royal Albatrosses nest on the rat free Sub-antarctic Campbell Island, around 8,200 to 8,600 pairs. There are smaller colonies on Adams Island and Auckland Island in the Auckland Islands,20 pairs combined, and 69 pairs on Enderby Island and some sanfordi X epomophora hybrids at the Northern Royal Albatross colony on the Otago Peninsula in New Zealand. They range along the southern oceans concentrating on the west and east coast of southern South America, and also in the waters surrounding New Zealand.
The Southern Royal Albatross eats squid and fish, with smaller amounts of carrion, crustaceans, and salps.
They prefer to nest on tussock grassland, plateaus, or ridges, and will lay one egg biennially. Both parents will incubate the egg, and rear the young. When feeding the young they will range south to the Campbell Plateau and north to the Chatham Rise.
The IUCN classifies this bird as Vulnerable, with an occurrence range of , and a breeding range of with a total estimated population of between 28,000 and 29,500 (1997). The population is recovering from its severe downward spiral in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. By the 1880s, this Albatross was extirpated from Auckland Island and Enderby Island. Pigs and cats are still a problem, as they take chicks and eggs, on Auckland Island. Longline fishing is a major problem and a possible emerging threat in Dracophyllum, a scrub that is taking away from their nesting range.