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Short-tailed Albatross (Phoebastria Albatrus)

COSEWIC Status Report
on the
Short-tailed Albatross
Phoebastria albatrus
in Canada

Species Information

Name and Classification

The first record of Phoebastria albatrus, commonly known as the Short-tailed Albatross, was made by George Steller in the 1740s. The type specimen for the species was collected offshore of Kamchatka, Russia, and was described in 1769 by P.S. Pallas in Spicilegia Zoologica (AOU 1998). The species is also less commonly referred to as Steller’s Albatross (Austin 1949, Harrison 1983, National Geographic Society 1987, Sibley and Monroe 1990), and “Coast Albatross” (Sherburne 1993, Federal Register 2000). The French name is Albatros à queue courte.

Until recently, the Short-tailed Albatross had been assigned to the genus Diomedea (Class Aves, Order Procellariiformes, Family Diomedeidae, Diomedea albatrus Pallas, 1769). Following the results of genetic studies (Nunn et al. 1996), the species is now classified, along with all the north Pacific albatrosses, within the genus Phoebastria: Class Aves, Order Procellariiformes, Family Diomedeidae, Phoebastria albatrus (Pallas, 1769).


The Short-tailed Albatross shares the classic body morphology of the family Diomedeidae: large bodied with long narrow wings adapted for soaring just above the water surface (Figure 1). Of the North Pacific albatrosses, the Short-tailed is the largest, and when mature, the only white-bodied albatross found in this region. The large bill, a distinguishing characteristic across age classes, is pink and hooked with a bluish tip. The sexes are alike across age classes, with no seasonal variation in plumage (Harrison 1983).

Adults are characterized by a white back, pale-yellow head and back of neck, black and white wings, white tail with a black fringe, and pale legs and feet. Adult length varies from 84-94 cm (33-37 inches), wingspan from 213-229 cm (84-90 inches) (Harrison 1983). First-year birds are wholly chocolate brown, closely resembling the juvenile Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes). However, the large bright pink bill provides a clear distinguishing factor in the field. Full adult plumage (with yellowish head and neck) is acquired after 12 to 20 years (Sibley 2000) (see Harrison 1983 for full description of immature and sub-adult stages).

Figure 1: Adult Short-tailed Albatross Phoebastria albatrus

Figure 1: Adult Short-tailed Albatross Phoebastria albatrus (Photo by Hiroshi Hasegawa).

Photo by Hiroshi Hasegawa.