The name albatross is derived from the word alcatraz, used by Portuguese sailors to describe all large sea birds indiscriminately. The albatrosses of the family Diomedeidae are the largest known flying birds. The 13 recognized species are distinguished mainly by the color of the bill and the wings. The largest species are the wandering albatross and the royal albatross.
Albatrosses are to be found in almost all of the world's oceans. They are exceptional fliers. The ocean is the natural habitat of these huge birds, but during the breeding season they venture onto dry land, nesting mainly on small islands and isolated parts of the continents. Their ability to find their way across the oceans and back to their original sites is astonishing.
No other bird can rival the albatross in remaining for hours on end suspended in the air, hardly ever moving its wings. They reach sexual maturity at 6-10 years and can live up to 40 years.
The wandering albatross can only be found in the violent wind-whipped oceans of the far southern latitudes, where it may circle Antarctica several times a year. Aloft, the wantering albatross holds its long, narrow wings (almost 12 feet in span but only about 10 inches wide) nearly motionless. In calm weather, an infrequent occurrence in the southern oceans, the birds waits on the surface for the return of the winds. To get aloft again, it must sometimes run clumsily along the waves, flapping its wings until it becomes airborne between two swells. The wandering albatrosses are solitary travelers during their long journeys.
The birds normally nest in colonies on remote islands scattered between antarctica and the southern coasts of Africa, Australia, and South America. They are very regular in returning to the same nesting sites. The female lays one large egg that is incubated for 10 to 21 days. The chick is fed by both parents for the first 3-5 weeks. Soon after birth, the young wandering albatross strays a little away from the nest and builds another, to which the parents carry food at irregular intervals.