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Species Guide
A photo of a Northern Royal Albatross (Diomedea sanfordi)
Northern Royal Albatross

Northern Royal Albatross

Diomedea sanfordi

The Northern Royal Albatross, known to the Māori as toroa, is a majestic seabird with a grand wingspan and a stately presence in the skies. This large member of the albatross family, Diomedea sanfordi, is a sight to behold, with its impressive size and elegant flight.

Identification Tips

Adult Northern Royal Albatrosses are predominantly white, with black-edged wings and a pink bill featuring a black cutting edge on the upper mandible. Juveniles display more speckling on their plumage, which gradually fades as they mature. Observers can identify this species by its vast wingspan, which ranges from 270 to 305 cm, and its body length of about 115 cm.


These albatrosses are pelagic, spending much of their life soaring over the open ocean. They come ashore only to breed, preferring flat summits on remote islands where they can nest in grassy or herbaceous areas.


The Northern Royal Albatross breeds on the Chatham Islands, Enderby Island in the Auckland Islands, and the only mainland colony in the Southern Hemisphere at Taiaroa Head on New Zealand's Otago Peninsula. Outside the breeding season, they embark on circumpolar flights across the southern oceans.


This species is known for its extensive and sometimes theatrical courtship displays, which include mutual or group performances in the air or on water. Once paired, their displays become less elaborate. They are biennial breeders, meaning they breed every other year, and exhibit strong fidelity to their nesting sites.

Song & Calls

The vocalizations of the Northern Royal Albatross are less commonly heard due to their solitary nature at sea, but during breeding, they engage in a variety of calls as part of their courtship rituals.


Breeding begins at around eight years of age. The Northern Royal Albatross constructs a nest of vegetation, mud, and feathers, where a single egg is laid. Both parents share the duty of incubating the egg for approximately 80 days. The chick is brooded for a month and takes about 240 days to fledge.

Similar Species

The Southern Royal Albatross is similar in appearance but can be distinguished at sea by its predominantly white upper wings, in contrast to the darker plumage of the Northern Royal Albatross.

Diet and Feeding

Their diet consists mainly of cephalopods, fish, crustaceans, salps, and carrion, with squids comprising a significant portion.

Conservation status

The Northern Royal Albatross is classified as Endangered, with an estimated population of around 17,000 birds as of 2022. Threats include habitat damage from storms, predation by introduced species, and the dangers posed by longline fishing. Conservation efforts include predator control, habitat preservation, and satellite monitoring to aid in population counts.

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Northern Royal Albatrosses on Birda


More Albatrosses

A photo of a Amsterdam Albatross (Diomedea amsterdamensis)

Amsterdam Albatross

Diomedea amsterdamensis
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