May 9, 2010

Royal Albatross (Diomedea epomophora)

What could be cooler than flying? How about being able to fly for years without landing, and without ever having to flap your wings? How about having a wingspan that measures 10 feet across?

Meet the Royal Albatross.

This guy is one of the largest flying birds in the world, and he's not kidding around. Albatrosses travel around 100,000 miles per year, and they can reach speeds of 70 mph...all without flapping their wings. They do this by being expert gliders. They spend their lives circling around the Southern ocean, riding on updrafts of air from the ocean waves. This system works great, with one drawback: the albatross needs wind in order to fly. If the wind drops, the albatross may be forced to float on the ocean until the wind picks up again. Then he just spreads out his wings, and up he goes. He is the picture of grace in the air...take off and landing, though, are not quite as graceful. They tend to land on their face as often as their feet. They don't land very often, though; they spend most of their lives in the air and only go to land to breed and raise their young.

Albatrosses mate for life. If his mate is killed, it could take many years for him to find another mate...if he finds one at all. After the business of finding a mate (or reuniting with a mate) is done, the albatross pair lays one egg and both parents take care of the chick together. And it's a big baby...the chick can weigh 22 pounds! The chick stays in the nest for about 240 days, after which it is ready to try out its wings. It will practice running and flying around the colony for a bit, and then eventually, it will take off for real. And when it does, that's it. It will not return to land again for several YEARS.

That's one cool bird.

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