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Young albatross drops in on Australia during epic 36,000km journey

Chris Russell, September 12, 2021 2:30PM Kids News

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A black-browed albatross fitted with a tracking device was photographed off Cape Town in South Africa by birdwatcher Estelle Smalberger, while another bird was tracked on a 36,000km round trip that included a visit to Australia. Picture: Estelle Smalberger media_cameraA black-browed albatross fitted with a tracking device was photographed off Cape Town in South Africa by birdwatcher Estelle Smalberger, while another bird was tracked on a 36,000km round trip that included a visit to Australia. Picture: Estelle Smalberger


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From South Georgia Island deep in the South Atlantic Ocean to the coast of South Australia is a daunting* distance to travel.

But one inquisitive* young albatross has flown it with ease, tracking almost 36,000km since it was tagged by British researchers in April.

The bird was one of 19 fledgling* black-browed albatrosses fitted with satellite transmitter trackers as part of a conservation project.

Going by the number 205649, the bird took a look at Western Australia before cruising the Great Australian Bight and the South Australian coast before turning back.

“The tracking has been even more successful than we hoped, and has revealed the movements of young black-browed albatrosses in unprecedented* detail,” said Richard Phillips, a lead researcher for the British Antarctic Survey.

Another albatross visited South America (the purple route), but most went to the coast of southern Africa, including one captured in a photograph by birdwatcher Estelle Smalberger, off Cape Town.

Supplied Editorial Albatross map media_cameraThis map shows the journeys of the black-browed albatross fledglings that were fitted with tracking devices on South Georgia Island in April, 2021. Picture: British Antarctic Survey

Professor Phillips said one adult had previously been tracked from South Georgia Island to Australia, using a geolocator*. It is thought to be rare behaviour, involving fewer than 5 per cent of the population on South Georgia Island, which is home to one of the world’s largest breeding colonies.

The snow covered peaks of South Georgia Island under a beautiful clouds and flying albatrosses media_cameraA pair of black-browed albatross fly near the snow covered peaks of South Georgia Island.

Black-browed albatross are listed by BirdLife Australia as vulnerable* in South Australia, along with NSW. The species is considered endangered in Tasmania but secure in Western Australia, Queensland and Victoria.

They are the most commonly seen albatross off Australia with small colonies on Heard Island and Macquarie Island, which are both in the Southern Ocean south of Australia.

Birds from the French-administered Kerguelen Islands, in the south Indian Ocean, also spend their non-breeding season in Australian waters.

“It is extremely rare for black-browed albatrosses to visit a colony other than the one from which they fledged*,” Prof Phillips said.

“While at sea, they spend most of the daylight on the wing, only landing to catch food.

“However, at night they spend several hours on the water probably because there is not enough light to detect prey.”

The British Antarctic Survey aims to provide evidence to slow the population decline in South Georgia, where numbers are estimated to have fallen from more than 100,000 breeding pairs in 1985 to 54,000 now.

A mother Black Browed Albatross and newborn chick. The chick is in the nest and other birds are flying in the background media_cameraPopulations of black browed albatross are in decline with only 54,000 breeding pairs now in South Georgia.


daunting: seeming difficult, dangerous or worrying

inquisitive: curious

fledgling: young bird that has grown enough to fly

unprecedented: never done or known to have happened before

geolocator: tracking device that shows where the wearer is in the world at any given time

vulnerable: a species considered to be at high risk of extinction in the wild

endangered: a species considered to be at very high risk of extinction in the wild

fledged: became able to fly


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Which island did the albatross start its journey from?

How many kilometres was it tracked?

What type of albatross is it?

On which two islands off Australia are small colonies of this species of albatross found?

How many breeding pairs are thought to be on South Georgia Island today?



1. Map the black-browed albatross

On a world map:

Mark the locations where black-browed albatross colonies mentioned in this story are located.

Mark the states in Australia where black-browed albatrosses can be found and their endangered status in each area.

Show an approximate flight path of the specific birds mentioned in the story.

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity

Curriculum Links: English; Geography; Science

2. Extension

Black-browed albatross number 205649 was tagged as a “fledgling” – the name used to describe baby birds who have grown their feathers and are learning to fly. Expand your vocabulary by researching the correct baby terms for 10 different species of animals. Then use your words to quiz a friend. Tell them the baby animal name and see if they can guess which grown up animal it matches.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity

Curriculum Links: English; Science


Find the Facts

Create five questions that a partner can find the answers to in the article.

Try to add an inferring question for an extension task where they have to think about the answer, rather than simply find the fact – Why do you think …? or What does it mean …? type questions are good for inferring.

Remember to organise your work so it is neat and clear, number your questions and use the correct grammar and punctuation to ensure it makes sense.

Make an answer sheet so they can check their answers when they finish.

Extra Reading in animals