This Sunday I will be off the coast of Kaikoura on South Island for the first time since 2008 checking out the amazing albatrosses they have there. This isn’t about boasting or making Corey feel jealous (okay it is), its an introduction to one of the birds I won’t be seeing there this weekend.

Kaikoura dawn at my last visit.

While albatrosses are found year-round on the tours out of Kaikoura, the best season for them is winter and not all species are common year round. One such species is the Black-browed Albatross, which is possible but not guaranteed in December. This species has a circumpolar distribution, breeding in the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and other islands near South America, a handful of islands in the southern Indian Ocean and a number of New Zealand’s sub-Antarctic islands.

Black-browed Albatross (Thalassarche melanophrys)

Even in winter the species wasn’t the most common of the albatross species I saw back in June 2008, but it was one of the more attractive. The delicate colours of the bill and the striking brow that give it its name make this a very pretty bird.

It pays to take particular note of the eyes of Black-browed Albies in New Zealand, because there are actually two closely related sister species here. The second species, the Campbell Albatross, is a very similar looking New Zealand endemic that also shows up, albeit more rarely. The difference is in the eyes, like I said, and a Campbell Albatross will have light coloured irises in contrast to the dark ones of the Black-browed. Sadly I never saw a Campbell Albatross on my trip, and while it is very unlikely on Sunday, I may see one next year.

Like most albatross species the Black-browed Albatross is endangered, threatened by becoming fisheries bycatch. Be sure to support campaigns to save these magnificent birds.

I don’t know if I’ll see one on Sunday, but if I do I will be:

a) well pleased

b) sure to tell Corey all about it

If you liked this post and want to see more great images of birds make sure to check out 10,000 Clicks, our big (and growing) page of galleries here at 10,000 Birds.

Written by Duncan
Duncan Wright is a Wellington-based ornithologist working on the evolution of New Zealand's birds. He's previously poked albatrosses with sticks in Hawaii, provided target practice for gulls in California, chased monkeys up and down hills Uganda, wrestled sharks in the Bahamas and played God with grasshopper genetics in Namibia. He came into studying birds rather later in life, and could quit any time he wants to.