Albatross and their eyebrows

Department of Conservation —  09/07/2021

We want the albatross of Aotearoa to glide their way into your hearts, so here’s a run down of some of our albatross species–sorted by brow.

By Anonymous DOC Blogger

*We know albatross don’t really have ‘eyebrows’

Buller’s and white-capped albatross reaching for fish scraps
📸: Leon Berard

Albatross are a big deal in Aotearoa. This is the seabird capital of the world and some of the species that breed here, like the Antipodean albatross, are extremely rare.

These feathered fish-foe are the world’s largest seabirds, and critical to ecosystems. They spend at least 85% of their lives at sea returning to land (usually remote islands) to breed and raise their young.

Naturally low productivity, changes in climate and habitat conditions, and certain fishing practices have made these seabirds highly vulnerable.

We have 13 species/sub-species of albatross which breed in New Zealand, which is more than anywhere else in the world. Hence the the seabird capital of the world comment (admittedly, this might be a self appointed title).

But without further ado:

Here’s a quirky introduction to some of the albatross in Aotearoa, by way of their epic eyebrows.

The brow of the white-capped albatross

White-capped albatross with a moody mien
📸: Vincent Zintzen, DOC

These eyebrows suggest that the white-capped albatross is a Very Serious Business Bird.


And as populations of albatross around the world continue to decline, their conservation is indeed a very serious business. 95% of albatross species are threatened or near-threatened (21 of 22 species).

Our staff are actively conducting research in this space. Most species breed on remote, inaccessible islands, so studying their populations is challenging, but teams of experts have been working hard on various remote islands around the world to study these birds.

The brow of the Salvin’s albatross

These eyebrows suggest that the Salvin’s albatross enjoys a dad joke. Maybe even a fun pun.

Not many people know about these birds, but we think it’s important to circulate images of these epicly be-browed creatures and their colourful visage.

Salvin’s albatross is a medium-sized mollymawk. Endemic to New Zealand, this is one of the least studied albatross species in the world. After breeding the Salvin’s albatross usually migrates to seas off the coast of Peru and Chile.

One of the biggest issues with this species is that we don’t have a lot of info about their population habits or the different cycles at sea. So we’ve been gathering data using GPS to see what these birds do around New Zealand, Chile and Peru, and help with tracking where they interact with fishing vessels in the high sea.


The brow of the Buller’s albatross

These eyebrows suggest if you wrong a Buller’s albatross, they will hold a grudge for life. Stow your definition of petty, these birds are about to redefine it.

(… It’s possible that we’re anthropomorphising a step too far with this whole eyebrow bit, and that’s fine, this won’t be for everyone, but as the survival of these birds will require as many people as possible caring about them, quirky “brows” seemed as good an avenue into the conversation as any).

But look! You can’t tell us this Buller’s albatross is not plotting someone/thing’s immediate demise:

Buller’s albatross chick and parent in nest on Tini Heke/Snares Island
📸: Igor Debski

Being on the end of that gaze does not seem like the place to be if you want to live a long and happylife.

This gaze? Fine.

Buller’s albatross chick in nest on Tini Heke/Snares Island
📸: Igor Debski

This one, not fine.

Two Buller’s albatross in long grass on Tini Heke/Snares Island
📸: Gilly Adam, DOC

Albatross like Buller’s are at risk from factors including naturally low productivity, changes in climate, fisheries bycatch and marine pollution — including oil spills and rubbish, particularly plastic litter.

These are a lot of factors to contend with. In May 2020, DOC and Fisheries NZ released the reviewed National Plan of Action on Seabirds which is a critical piece of work.

Which is good news for sleek-browed creatures such as these:

The hard-to-see brow of the Antipodean albatross

Antipodean albatross nesting
📸: S Horn

These eyebrows suggest the Antipodean albatross keeps a low profile.

Which they do. They’re notoriously rare and hard to see because of their remote location, and their Threatened-Nationally Critical conservation status.

Antipodean albatross are one of the largest of their kind, with a wingspan of 3 metres. They have very distinctive markings, and are the most threatened albatross species in the country — since 2004 we’ve lost 60% of our breeding pairs. Live Ocean did a great 5 minute documentary on these species, called Sentinel of the Ocean.

The Anitipodean albatross nest on Antipodes Islands where mice (the only introduced pest) were eradicated in 2016.

Fun fact: their courting behaviour is not dissimilar to what you might see in town on Friday or Saturday nights:

Antipodean albatross courting
📸: Sarah Fraser

Keep that up my feathered friends, because it’s imperative you keep getting down to business at mating time.

Next up:

The invisi-brow of the light mantled sooty albatross

Light mantled sooty albatross
📸: Leona Plaisier

These brows suggest permanent surprise.

The light mantled sooty albatross has a great name, and great (non) brows.

Even the chicks looks surprised:

Light mantled sooty albatross chick
📸: Finlay Cox

Sadly, this species have been in the news as one died in Wellington due to ingesting plastic. The team at Wellington Zoo operated, but unfortunately the bird died while recuperating. Upon post-mortem, plastic was revealed to be the cause.

Please, please, please pick up any plastic litter you see. Do this everywhere, but especially in coastal areas.

Rounding out now with a happy story:

The missing brow of the Northern royal albatross

One of the Royal Cam albatross made famous by the power of Youtube
📸: Laura Honey DOC

These brow suggest these birds are celebrities and should be treated as such.

Royal Cam is the show that Bravo really needs to pick up.

This is a 24/7 live stream of a Torora Northern royal albatross colony at Taiaroa Head; and over the years there have been many magnificent moments.

The current cam is in partnership with Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The colony at Pukekura/Taiaroa Head is the only mainland colony of albatross in the southern hemisphere, and the most accessible place for people to visit, see and learn about these seabirds.  

The chicks on the stream have amassed fans from all around the world. Views spiked in lockdown as well, as people were eager to stream a bit of nature direct into their homes.

The first Royal Cam chick, Moana
📸: Laura Honey DOC
💻 Screengrab of the royal Cam livestream

Thus concludes the brow tour

We’d love for everyone to be passionate about seabirds, and to look out for plastic litter. The albatross of Aotearoa are really special and we want to ensure their survival, which requires more people than just our existing conservation experts caring about them.

If you want to keep a closer eye on our albatross, here are some great ways to do that:

Royal Cam live stream

Or track albatross with the tracking app

This albatross tracking app is a joint effort between the Ministry for Primary Industries and us.

Or head to our website

… and click around for content like this:

Northern Royal albatross flying at Taiaroa Head
🎥: Ligs Hoffman

To learn more

About threats to albatross, the work we’re doing, and how you can help, visit:

#BirdBrows for the win.

2 responses to Albatross and their eyebrows


    You can go on a boat from several locations, like Kaikoura and Sandspit to see these birds close up in a natural environment doing what they do best, grabbing food items….

    Instructor Rita Palasek 19/06/2020 at 11:19 am

    Great little article featuring several species of the albatross! The link for “handy graphic on our Facebook page” is unavailable. Other than that, all is good; save the albatross. Thanks for sharing!