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Facts about the Short-tailed Albatross

Buzzle Staff
There are many species of albatross, and the Short-tailed Albatross is an interesting one among them. Read the story of how they were once on the brink of extinction, reduced to only 50 birds worldwide, and their subsequent recovery.


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Procellariiformes

Family: Diomedeidae

Genus: Phoebastria

Species: P. albatrus

Physical Characteristics

Height - Approximately 3 feet

Length - Between 2.6 and 3.4 feet
Wingspan - Between 7 and 7.5 feet

Bill and Tail - Between 0.4-0.6 feet
Short-tailed albatrosses are not very difficult to identify - but not by the length of their tail! The short-tailed albatross' tail is not significantly different in size from the tails of other albatrosses, so they are the easiest to identify using their distinctive coloring.
  • Adults are almost all white, with a few black feathers on their wings.
  • They have a yellowish head and neck, and a pink beak.
  • They also have a black bar on the tail.
Juveniles are harder to identify because they are a uniform brown all over. It may take up to 20 years for a juvenile Short-tailed Albatross to turn white!

The Short-tailed Albatross is a medium-sized bird, but it's still quite big by anyone's standards. Short-tailed Albatrosses are uniquely suited to ocean life. They have a gland that helps them remove excess salt from their bodies after ingesting large amounts of sea water.


Long beaks are good for eating squid, which is the Short-tailed Albatross' main diet. They also tend to be around ships since ships sometimes discard meat.

Their stomachs produce a unique form of oil which is stored in their body and can be used as a source of energy if they can't find enough food on long ocean migration voyages.

Habitat, Range, and Breeding

Approximate Range: Torishima, Minami-kojima, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and Bonin Islands, California, eastern Russia, and off the coast of Japan.
Most of the birds nest on an island called Tori-shima, an uninhabited part of the Izu Islands range. Appropriately, Tori-shima translates to English as "bird island," and the Short-tailed Albatross is the most important bird species that nests there. In the late 1800s, the inhabitants' primary means of supporting themselves was gathering guano from the then abundant Short-tailed Albatross population.

Short-tailed Albatrosses prefer to nest in large, grassy and open areas.

Population Trend

IUCN Status - Vulnerable
By the 1930s, the feather trade had reduced the Short-tailed Albatross population to critically low levels. Currently, it is estimated that there are only 2,200 - 2,500 of the birds in existence.
Due to conservation efforts, including the establishment of the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology, the Short-tailed Albatross has begun to make a recovery, and today its status has been downgraded to vulnerable.
In 1954, Tori-shima was converted into a protected bird sanctuary, which has greatly helped the albatross population there. Today, Short-tailed Albatrosses nest on three other islands in the Pacific, and their migration patterns take them all the way to the West Coast of the United States.

Today's Concerns

While it is true that the Short-tailed Albatross has made a good recovery after being on the brink of extinction, its troubles have not totally disappeared. One of the biggest concerns for the Short-tailed Albatross population is the fact that Tori-shima is a volcanic island.
In the past, volcanic eruptions on Tori-shima have damaged bird populations before, and the same thing could happen again. Since most of these birds nest on Tori-shima, an eruption during their mating season could do serious damage to their numbers.
But other threats like soil instability, predators, weather extremities, longline fisheries, and environmental contaminants are equally serious. It has been listed as a protected species in USA, Japan, and Canada, and measures are being taken to increase their population.