Albatrosses, Petrels and Shearwaters

Albatrosses, Petrels and Shearwaters Photographed in Pelagic and Coastal Habitat

This seabird1 photo album comprises images of Albatross (Diomedeidae) and Petrel/Shearwater (Procellariidae) from the Procellariiformes order. The first of three galleries feature bird portraits, the second birds-in-flight and the last bird behaviour. I’ve included birds in flight because these species spend a significant amount of their life on the wing.

Albatrosses, Petrels and Shearwaters

Albatrosses, Petrels and Shearwaters Notes

Seabirds roam the oceans far out at sea and only come to coastal areas to breed and raise their young thereby offering great photographic opportunities. Kaikoura pelagic in New Zealand is one on the best places to photograph albatross endemics and other seabird species.

Most seabirds drink salt-water, filtering excess salt from their blood streams using salt glands located in their head above the eyes and excrete excess salt from the nostrils, which then runs down the bill and drops off at the tip. Albatrosses and related shearwaters and petrels have pronounced tubular nostrils on either side of the top of their bill, therefore called tubenoses making then instantly recognisable.

Shearwaters spend daylight hours at sea and return after dark to their nest burrows to feed their chicks.

Red List (2019) of Threatened Species

There are twenty-four albatross taxa: fifteen ‘Threatened’, six ‘Near Threatened’ and only one ‘Least Concern’. Displayed in the gallery are six species: five ‘threatened’ and one ‘Near Threatened’:
(a) ‘Critically Endangered’ waved albatrosses are breeding endemics on Espanola Island in the Galapagos.
(b) Three ‘Endangered’ New Zealand breeding endemic species are the Antipodean albatross, Gibson’s albatross and northern royal albatross.
(c) The ‘Vulnerable’ Salvin’s albatross is a New Zealand breeding endemic.
(d) The ‘Near Threatened’ white capped albatross2 is a New Zealand breeding endemic.

Petrels and Shearwaters fair a little better with forty-three ‘Threatened’, eleven ‘Near Threatened’ and forty-one ‘Least Concern’. Except for the ‘Endangered’ Westland Petrel and ‘Vulnerable’ White-chinned Petrel other petrel and shearwater species shown in the gallery are ‘Least Concern’.

This reflects the poor state of our oceans.

Albatross and Petrels Inflight

Tubenoses Inflight Notes

The gallery shows images of tubenoses inflight. Where possible I’ve included two images of each species to show over-wing and under-wing plumage.

Albatrosses spend much of their life on the wing while petrels and shearwaters can fly long distances in search of food.

Albatross and Petrels Behaviours

Albatross and Petrel Behaviour Notes

When birds compete for a food they often exhibit threat behaviour or become aggressive providing great photo opportunities. The first image shows a fur seal eating a fish with white-capped albatrosses looking for a share. Other images in the gallery show a feeding frenzies and threat behaviours of several albatrosses and petrels.

Shearwater Behaviour

Shearwater Behaviour Notes

In the mid-nineties, I photographed Manx shearwater (Puffinus puffinus) in their breeding colony on Skomer Island. The images are digitised scans from colour negatives and positives.

The gallery shows birds at or near their burrow entrances, on the ground or perched on rocks, in total darkness. To avoid predators during the day they are either at sea or in their burrows below ground. At night, these clumsy birds waddle and drag themselves to a high point then launch themselves into the air. The great black-backed gull is a successful predator and judging by the number of dead birds and carcasses, they are easy prey.

Staying on Skomer at night is a marvellous experience, this is when the birds become active, very noisy and seen above ground. There is little ambient light on Skomer making photography and walking around the island challenging.

Manx shearwaters arrive on Skomer in March. The colony has an estimated population of 120,000 breeding pairs and on nearby Stockholm another 45,000, estimated world population is 350,000 to 390,000 breeding pairs. I visited the island in June and July, when all the nesting seabirds are most active busy feeding their chicks. In late August, the adult Manx shearwaters abandon their chicks leaving them to fend for themselves. After about a week the chicks leave the island, navigate on their own to overwinter off southern Brazil and Argentina.

I’ve included another shearwater victim of predation, the short-tailed shearwater photographed at Griffiths Island in Victoria. Linked by a causeway allows introduced predators like fox onto the island.

1  Refer to Non-Passerine Seabirds, footnote 1 for taxonomic orders that I include in bird classification for seabirds.
2 Full species taxa accepted by ACAP (Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels), largely on account of earlier genetic studies. Ref: del Hoyo, J., Collar, N. & Kirwan, G.M. (2019). White-capped Albatross (Thalassarche steadi). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 23 June 2019).