Light-mantled Albatross Phoebetria palpebrata


Justification of Red List Category
This species is classified as Near Threatened as it may be declining owing to bycatch on longline fisheries and perhaps the impacts of introduced predators. Threats and population status both remain poorly known.

Population justification

Information on population status and trend is most well known on Macquarie Island and Possession Island (Crozet Islands). There are 1,850-2,450 pairs on Macquarie Island, c.1,949 pairs in the Crozet group, 5,000 pairs on South Georgia, 3,000-5,000 pairs on Kerguelen, c.5,000 pairs on the Auckland Islands, at least 1,600 pairs on Campbell Island, 170 pairs on the Antipodes Islands (Croxall and Gales 1998, Taylor 2000), 350 pairs on Marion Island, 129 pairs on Prince Edward Island (ACAP 2012) and 200-500 pairs reported at 1954 on Heard Island (Downes et al. 1959). The total annual breeding population is estimated at 19,000-24,000 pairs, roughly equivalent to 58,000 mature individuals (and 87,000 individuals in total) in this biennially breeding species - Croxall and Gales (1998) estimated c. 21,600 pairs.

Trend justification
Population trends are poorly known. On Possession Island (Crozet), there has been a decline of 13% in 15 years (Weimerskirch and Jouventin 1998), though the population is now increasing (Delord et al. 2008). The small population on Marion Island appears to now be stable, following a decrease between 1997-2002 (Ryan et al. 2003), and may even be increasing (200 pairs in 1989, 350 pairs in 2007) (ACAP 2012). The small population on Prince Edward Island has seen a small increase from 2002-2009 (92-129 pairs) (ACAP 2012). The Macquarie Island population seems to have been slightly increasing over the last 22 years. Overall trends are uncertain as the majority of colonies have not been studied, but the species may be declining owing to bycatch on longline fisheries, plus perhaps the impacts of introduced predators at some sites; a moderately rapid population decline is precautionarily suspected to be taking place over 100 years.

Distribution and population

Phoebetria palpebrata has a circumpolar distribution in the Southern Ocean. It disperses over cold Antarctic waters in summer as far south as the pack ice (Weimerskirch and Robertson 1994, Phillips et al. 2005, Terauds and Gales 2006, Lawton et al. 2008, Mackley et al. 2010) but ranges north into temperate and sub-tropical seas in winter. It breeds on South Georgia (Georgias del Sur), Auckland, Campbell and Antipodes islands (New Zealand), Amsterdam, St Paul, Crozet and Kerguelen islands (French Southern Territories), Heard Island (Heard and MacDonald Islands (to Australia)), Macquarie Island (Australia), and Prince Edward and Marion islands (South Africa).


Behaviour This species is a biennial breeder usually nesting solitarily or in small colonies. Most eggs are laid in October-November, hatch in December-January and chicks fledge in May-June (Croxall and Gales 1998). Egg laying is highly synchronous within each colony. Young birds are philopatric, returning to their natal colonies after 7 to 12 years (ACAP 2009). Breeding birds from Macquarie Island typically forage in shelf waters around the island; they also utilise sub-Antarctic and Antarctic waters south-west of Macquarie (BirdLife International 2004). During chick-rearing, adults from South Georgia feed in Antarctic shelf and shelf-slope areas along the southern Scotia Arc and to a lesser extent in oceanic waters in the mid Scotia Sea (Phillips et al. 2005). It employs a variety of feeding strategies, including surface-seizing, surface filtering and plunging.
Habitat Breeding It nests on cliff ledges, on a pedestal nest of mud and peat, lined with grass.
Diet The diet is primarily composed of cephalopods and euphausiids, but birds also take fish and carrion (Thomas 1982, Cooper and Klages 1995).
Foraging range Satellite-tracked incubating birds from Macquarie Island foraged south of the Antarctic Polar Front, an average of 1,500 km from their breeding sites. Four breeding birds from South Georgia (Islas Georgias del Sur) followed a typical flight path (38 trips) involving a clockwise route to and from high latitude waters along the southern Scotia Arc, on average travelling 3,800 km, to a maximum range of 920 km from the colony (for further information see Weimerskirch and Robertson 1994, Phillips et al. 2005, Terauds and Gales 2006, Lawton et al. 2008, Mackley et al. 2010).


Reports from New Zealand, Australia and Japan indicate that the species is caught in tuna longline fisheries (39 returned from observers in New Zealand fisheries in 1996-2005) (C. J. R. Robertson in litt. 2008), which may be sufficient adult mortality to drive a significant decline. The continued presence of pigs on the main Auckland Island is likely to be impacting breeding success, with chick predation strongly suspected wherever nests are accessible to pigs (Phillips et al. 2016, R. Phillips in litt. 2018). Cats are known to have a negative impact on breeding success on the Kerguelen Islands (ACAP 2009). On Marion Island, house mice Mus musculus are killing up to 5% of chicks annually and this rate is likely to increase unless mice are eradicated (Dilley et al. 2015). Rats have been eradicated from most New Zealand colonies. The population on Heard Island may be at risk from volcanic eruptions, where a large event could impact a large percentage of the colony present. To date, eruptions have not had dramatic impacts (Phillips et al. 2016).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CMS Appendix II and ACAP Annex 1.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct standardised population surveys at all key sites. Determine foraging distribution and overlap with fisheries. As a precaution, eradicate introduced predators at breeding sites.


80 cm. Small sooty brown albatross. Adult: sooty brown head, throat, wings and tail; rest of upperparts ash-grey; pale brownish-grey underparts; bill (105 mm) black with blue sulcus along lower mandible; juvenile: brown scalloping on neck and back; grey eye ring instead of white; and greyish-yellow line along lower bill. Similar spp. P. fusca is darker and has yellow line along lower bill. Voice Loud shrill call becoming trumpet-like e.g.. 'piew'/'pee-arr'/'pio'; threatening call a throaty 'gaaaa'; and bill snapping.


Text account compilers
Stuart, A., Sullivan, B., Symes, A., Calvert, R., Fjagesund, T., Anderson, O., Butchart, S., Hermes, C., Martin, R., Moreno, R., Small, C.

Alderman, R., Stahl, J.-C., Debski, I., Robertson, C., Croxall, J., Walker, K., Phillips, R., Ryan, P.G., Delord, K., Taylor, G.A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Phoebetria palpebrata. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/light-mantled-albatross-phoebetria-palpebrata on 04/06/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org on 04/06/2023.