This species qualifies as Critically Endangered owing to its extremely small breeding range and a projected extremely rapid population decline over three generations (70 years). Modelled population declines are a consequence of very low adult survival owing to incidental mortality in longline fisheries, compounded by low fledging success caused by predation of chicks by introduced mice.
Brooke, M. de L. 2004. Albatrosses and Petrels Across the World. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.
Robertson, C. J. R.; Nunn, G. B. 1998. Towards a new taxonomy for albatrosses. In: Robertson, G.; Gales, R. (ed.), Albatross biology and conservation, pp. 13-19. Surrey Beatty & Sons, Chipping Norton, Australia.
Diomedea chionoptera Robertson and Nunn (1998)
Distribution and populationDiomedea dabbenena
110 cm. Huge albatross, very similar in plumage to Wandering Albatross D.exulans. Probably indistinguishable in field, but plumage generally darker. Separated by smaller size (e.g. bill c.25 mm shorter) (Neves et al. 2000) and slower acquisition of white adult plumage, never attaining very white plumage of old male D. exulans.
breeding populations are essentially restricted to Gough Island, Tristan da Cunha, St Helena (to UK)
, having become extinct on Tristan (although birds were seen prospecting in 1999 [Ryan et al.
2001]), and in some years one pair breeds on Inaccessible Island (Cuthbert et al.
2003, R. Wanless in litt.
2007). Using consecutive annual accounts of incubating adults and a population model the population has been estimated at c1,700 breeding pairs, giving a total global population of 7,100 individuals (ACAP 2010). Recent counts suggest that the population on Gough has decreased by 28% over 46 years, and at 3% annually between 2000 and 2011 (Cuthbert et al.
2013), in line with population modelling predictions of annual decline rates of 2.9-5.3% (Ryan et al.
2001, Wanless et al
. 2009), equivalent to declines of >96% in three generations. Predation of chicks by mice has led to very low breeding success; between 2000 and 2011 this averaged only 23%, less than half that of other studied Diomedea
colonies (Cuthbert et al.
2003, Cuthbert and Hilton 2004, Wanless et al.
2007, R. Wanless in litt.
2007, Cuthbert et al. 2013). In January 2008, 1,764 adult albatrosses were incubating eggs on Gough but only 246 chicks survived to fledging (BirdLife International 2009). Outside the breeding season, it disperses to South Atlantic and South African waters (Goren and Ryan 2010), with numerous recent records from Brazilian waters (Neves et al
. 2000, Olmos et al
. 2000) and one from Australia (Ryan et al.
2001), suggesting that birds may occasionally disperse into the Indian Ocean. This is supported by the recent record of a ringed individual washed up on the Indian Ocean coast of South Africa (Ryan 2009). Population justification
Breeding populations are essentially restricted to Gough Island, with a single pair nesting intermittently on Inaccessible Island (ACAP 2009). The annual breeding population is currently estimated to be 1,698 pairs (2010), equivalent to a total population of 7,100 individuals for this biennially breeding species (RSPB unpublished data). This roughly equates to 4,700 mature individuals.Trend justification
Recent counts suggest that the population on Gough has decreased by 28% over 46 years, and at 3% annually between 2000 and 2011 (Cuthbert et al.
2013), which is in line with population modelling predicting annual rates of decline of 2.9-5.3% (Ryan et al.
2001, Wanless et al.
2009). More recent population modelling, conducted over three generations since 1980, suggests an decline equivalent to a >96% reduction in population size over three generations, since declines began (BirdLife International unpublished data). The rate of ongoing decline is therefore placed here in the band 80-100% over three generations (86 years).EcologyBehaviour
It is a colonial, biennially breeding species. Adults return in November and December, lay in January and the chicks fledge in November. Immature birds begin returning to their breeding colony at 3-7 years after fledging. Most D. dabbenena
recruit in their natal colony, at a mean age of 10 years (range 4-20 years) (ACAP 2009)
. The oldest recorded bird was at least 38 years old (Ryan 2009)
. It catches prey by surface-seizing, and the prevalence of a bioluminescent group of cephalopods in one dietary study suggests that D. dabbenena
often feed at night (ACAP 2009)
. During the breeding season the length and range of foraging trips varies considerably, depending on the stage of the breeding cycle (BirdLife International 2004, Cuthbert et al.
. Habitat Breeding
It nests at 400-700 m (rarely to 300 m) (P. G. Ryan in litt.
1999), primarily in wet heath where it is open enough for take-off and landings. Diet
It feeds on cephalopods and fish (J. Cooper in litt
, and probably follows ships and trawlers for offal and galley refuse. Threats
On Inaccessible Island, its decline was probably due to predation by feral pigs (now absent) and humans (Fraser et al.
1988, Ryan et al.
. The failure to recover is unclear, but may be because young birds become entangled in thick vegetation (Ryan et al.
1990, P. G. Ryan in litt.
1999). On Tristan, its extirpation was probably the result of human exploitation (J. Cooper in litt
, although predation by rats may have been a factor (Fraser et al.
. On Gough, predation by the introduced house mouse Mus musculus
causes very low breeding success and alone is sufficient to drive a population decline of over 50% over three generations (Cuthbert et al.
2003, Cuthbert and Hilton 2004, Wanless et al.
. An additional threat on Gough is peat slips caused by storms burying and killing nestlings and adults, although this is probably a very rare event (Ryan 1993)
Another major threat comes from interactions with longline fisheries, with a high proportion of "Wandering" Albatross bycatch in southern Brazilian waters being of this species (Neves et al
. 2000, Olmos et al
. 2000), including a few birds banded at Gough (Croxall and Gales 1998, J. Cooper in litt
. 1999). It has been estimated that c.500 individuals of this species are killed every year by longliners (Goren and Ryan 2010). Satellite tracking of breeding birds indicates considerable overlap between birds and areas of longline fishing (Cuthbert et al.
2005), although due to lag times associated with albatross demography we are probably only now likely to start to pick up population trends associated with longline mortality (R. Wanless in litt.
2007). Together, the dual threats of mice and bycatch give a worst-case scenario of extinction in roughly 30 years, although the true situation is likely a continued and severe decline (Wanless et al
. 2009). Having a distribution on relatively low-lying islands, this species is also potentially susceptible to climate change through sea-level rise and shifts in suitable climatic conditions (BirdLife International unpublished data). Conservation Actions Underway
ACAP Annex 1. On Tristan, a programme to eradicate cats was successful in the 1970s. Gough and Inaccessible are nature reserves and Gough is a World Heritage Site. Both islands are uninhabited, apart from a meteorological station on Gough (Cooper and Ryan 1994)
. Satellite tracking to determine foraging areas during the breeding season was undertaken in 2000-2001 (Cuthbert et al.
. Censuses of large chicks and/or incubating adults were carried out during 1999-2003, and a monitoring protocol was devised (Cuthbert and Sommer 2004)
. Satellite tracking of non-breeders, further monitoring and demographic work, and an investigation of mouse predation on chicks was initiated during 2003-2006. Initial results from a feasibility study into the removal of the mice appear promising, giving no significant obstacles to the undertaking of an eradication programme (BirdLife International 2009)
. Since 2007, birds have been marked with field-readable plastic leg rings, and by 2009, 650 individuals had been ringed (Goren and Ryan 2010)
. Conservation Actions Proposed
Annually survey numbers and assess breeding success on Gough. Continue research of at-sea distribution and foraging behaviour, particularly of non-breeding birds. Promote adoption of best-practice mitigation measures in all fisheries within the species's range, particularly via intergovernmental mechanisms such as ACAP, FAO and Regional Fisheries Management Organisations. Use decoys to assist re-establishment of birds on Tristan, and to attract birds to Long Ridge on Inaccessible (P. G. Ryan in litt.
. Begin an eradication programme for mice on Gough Island as soon as possible.
Related state of the world's birds case studies
ACAP. 2009. ACAP Species Assessment: Tristan Albatross Diomedea dabbenena. Available at: #http://www.acap.aq/acap-species/download-document/1206-tristan-albatross#.
BirdLife International. 2004. Tracking ocean wanderers: the global distribution of albatrosses and petrels. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.
BirdLife International. 2009. Fujian Birdwatchers take Chinese Crested Tern message to schools. Available at: http://www.oiseaux.net/oiseaux//paradisier.de.raggi.html#http://www.oiseaux.net/oiseaux//paradisier.de.raggi.html#.
Cooper, J.; Ryan, P. G. 1994. Management plan for the Gough Island Wildlife Reserve. Government of Tristan da Cunha, Edinburgh, Tristan da Cunha.
Croxall, J. P.; Gales, R. 1998. Assessment of the conservation status of albatrosses. In: Robertson, G.; Gales, R. (ed.), Albatross biology and conservation, pp. 46-65. Surrey Beatty & Sons, Chipping Norton, Australia.
Cuthbert, R. and Sommer, S. E. 2004. Gough Island bird monitoring manual. RSPB Research Report.
Cuthbert, R.; Hilton, G. 2004. Introduced house mice Mus musculus: a significant predator of threatened and endemic birds on Gough Island, South Atlantic Ocean? Biological Conservation 117: 483-489.
Cuthbert, R.; Hilton, G.; Ryan, P.; Tuck, G.N. 2005. At-sea distribution of breeding Tristan albatrosses Diomedea dabbenena and potential interactions with pelagic longline fishing in the South Atlantic Ocean. Biological Conservation 121: 345-355.
Cuthbert, R.; Ryan, P. G.; Cooper, J.; Hilton, G. 2003. Demography and population trends of the Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross. Condor 105: 439-452.
Fraser, M. W.; Ryan, P. G.; Watkins, B. P. 1988. The seabirds of Inaccessible Island, South Atlantic Ocean. Cormorant 16: 7-33.
Neves, T.; Vooren, C. M.; Bastos, G. 2000. Proportions of Tristan and Wandering Albatrosses in incidental captures off the Brazilian coast.
Olmos, F.; Bastos, G. C. C.; da Silva Neves, T. 2000. Estimating seabird bycatch in Brazil.
Richard J. Cuthbert, John Cooper and Peter G. Ryan. 2013. Population trends and breeding success of albatrosses and giant petrels at Gough Island in the face of at-sea and on-land threats. Antarctic Science, available on CJO2013.
Ryan, P. 2009. Sign of the times for Tristan Albatrosses. Africa - Birds & Birding 14(3): 12.
Ryan, P. G. 1993. The ecological consequences of an exceptional rainfall event at Gough. South African Journal of Science 89: 309-311.
Ryan, P. G.; Cooper, J.; Glass, J. P. 2001. Population status, breeding biology and conservation of the Tristan Albatross Diomedea [exulans] dabbenena. Bird Conservation International 11: 35-48.
Ryan, P. G.; Dean, W. R. J.; Moloney, C. L.; Watkins, B. P.; Milton, S. J. 1990. New information on seabirds at Inaccessible Island and other islands in the Tristan da Cunha group. Marine Ornithology 18: 43-54.
Wanless, R. M.; Angel, A.; Cuthbert, R. J.; Hilton, G. M.; Ryan, P. G. 2007. Can predation by invasive mice drive seabird extinctions? Biology Letters 3: 241-244.
Wanless, R. M.; Ryan, P. G.; Altwegg, R.; Angel, A.; Cooper, J.; Cuthbert, R.; Hilton, G. M. 2009. From both sides: dire demographic consequences of carnivorous mice and longlining for the critically endangered Tristan Albatrosses on Gough Island. Biological Conservation 142: 1710-1718.
Further web sources of information
Additional information is available on the distribution of the Tristan Albatross from the Global Procellariiform Tracking Database (http://www.seabirdtracking.org)
Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) species/site profile. This species has been identified as an AZE trigger due to its IUCN Red List status and limited range.
Australian Govt - Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000 - Recovery Outline
Click here for more information about the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE)
Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species
Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection
Text account compilers
Anderson, O., Calvert, R., Mahood, S., McClellan, R., Nel, D., Shutes, S., Stattersfield, A., Sullivan, B., Symes, A., Taylor, J. & Martin, R
Cooper, J., Croxall, J., Cuthbert, R., Hilton, G., Ryan, P.G. & Wanless, R.
BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Diomedea dabbenena. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 05/07/2015.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2015) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 05/07/2015.
This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000)
Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004)
Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.
To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife
To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.
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