Vagrant mollymawk albatrosses attempt to breed outside their normal ranges

Visits to colonies of breeding mollymawk albatrosses sometimes turn up unexpected records of vagrant species.  A recent publication reports an adult Salvin's Albatross Thalassarche salvini ashore in October 2008 on Gough Island in the South Atlantic - photographed immediately adjacent to an incubating Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross T. chlororhynchos (Visser et al. 2009).

 In the southern Indian Ocean, a "Shy-type" (thought probably a White-capped T. steadi) Albatross was observed incubating among Grey-headed Albatrosses T. chrysostoma on Prince Edward Island in December 2008 and a Black-browed Albatross T. melanophris has attempted breeding with a Grey-headed Albatross partner on nearby Marion Island intermittently since 2002 (Ryan et al. 2009).

 To add to these three recently published records, in 1982 and 1983 at Bird Island, South Georgia (Islas Georgias del Sur) single Salvin's Albatrosses, possibly the same bird, were observed from within (when the bird was banded) and flying over a Grey-headed Albatross colony, respectively (Prince & Croxall 1983, 1996).  A Salvin's Albatross was photographed ashore near a Black-browed Albatross colony on Gonzalo Island, Diego Ramirez Group (Chile) at the southern tip of South America in November 2001 (Arata 2003).  This species has also been recorded at sea on the Patagonian Shelf (Seco Pon et al. 2007).  Finally, a Salvin's Albatross has "regularly built a nest within a Black-browed Albatross colony on Kerguelen [southern Indian Ocean] in recent years" (Shirihai 2007).

 A White-capped Albatross was first observed in a Black-browed Albatross colony on Bird Island, South Georgia (Islas Georgias del Sur) in the south-western Atlantic in February 2003, when identified as a male T. steadi by DNA analysis (Phalan et al. 2004).  This bird has been present every season since, and first bred with a female Black-browed Albatross in 2007/08.  It probably has the same partner each time, but the female remains unbanded to confirm this.  The mixed pair raised a chick to several weeks of age in both 2007/08 and 2008/09, but then failed for unknown reasons.  They currently have an egg in their third season.

 It remains to be seen whether the presence of any of these vagrant albatrosses will in time result in new breeding colonies becoming established, although it seems unlikely, with only singletons being recorded at each locality to date.  However, a colony of four pairs of Salvin's Albatrosses was discovered in the Crozet Islands in the southern Indian Ocean in 1986 (Jouventin 1990).  One of these birds was the individual banded at South Georgia in 1982 (Prince & Croxall 1996).  But it seems this small colony may no longer be extant (click here for the ACAP Species Assessment).


 Arata, J. 2003.  New record of Salvin's Albatross (Thalassarche salvini) at the Diego Ramirez Islands, Chile.  Notornis 50: 169-171.

Jouventin, P. 1990.  Shy Albatrosses Diomedea cauta salvini breeding on Penguin Island, Crozet Archipelago, Indian Ocean.  Ibis 132: 126-127.

Phalan, B., Phillips, R.A. & Double, M.C. 2004.  A White-capped Albatross, Thalassarche [cauta] steadi, at South Georgia: first confirmed record in the south-western Atlantic.  Emu 104: 359-361.

Prince, P.A. & Croxall, J.P. 1983. Birds of South Georgia: new records and re-evaluations of status.  British Antarctic Survey Bulletin 59: 15-27.

Prince, P.A. & Croxall, J.P. 1996.  The birds of South Georgia.  Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club 116: 81-104.

Ryan, P.G., Jones, M.G.W., Dyer, B.M., Upfold, L. & Crawford, R.J.M. 2009.  Recent population estimates and trends in numbers of albatrosses and giant petrels breeding at the sub-Antarctic Prince Edward Islands.  African Journal of Marine Science 31: 409-417.

Seco Pon, J.P., Wienecke, B. & Robertson, G. 2007.  First record of Salvin's Albatross (Thalassarche salvini) on the Patagonian Shelf.  Notornis 54: 49-51.

Shirihai, H. 2007.  A Complete Guide to Antarctic Wildlife.  The Birds and Marine Mammals of the Antarctic Continent and the Southern Ocean.  London: A & C Black.

Visser, P., Louw, H., Cuthbert, R. & Ryan, P. 2009.  Salvin's Albatross Thalassarche salvini on Gough Island, South Atlantic.  Bulletin of the African Bird Club 16: 215-216. 

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, with input from Richard Phillips, British Antarctic Survey, 30 December 2009

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