Shy Albatross Diomedea cauta

This bird was photographed on a Cape Pelagic Trip on 4 November 2000 by Roland van der Vliet of the Netherlands. The bird showed an obvious white back and was noticably (at least 10%) bigger than all the surrounding Shy Albatrosses. In fact, when the bird was initially picked up at a distance of more than a mile away, it was tentatively identified as a Northern Royal Albatross (Diomedea sanfordi) and it was only when the bird came close enough to pick out the dark tail, bill colour and underwing pattern that the bird was correctly identified.

We would be interested to hear if anyone else has ever seen a Shy Albatross showing the white back as a feature. Please email us your sightings or any other comments that you may have about this bird and, in due course, we will collect them and post them all to this page.

4 March 2001 - We have been fortunate enough to be able to track down another photograph of this bird which was taken by Martyn Sidwell of the U.K. on the same trip. Should you have any further comments on this bird, please email them to us.

Comments received so far:

From Lindsay E. Smith of Wollongong, Australia:

The unusual Shy albatross to which you refer was most likely from Albatross Island off the north west of Tasmania. This population has a significant number of partial albino / leucocyte birds. Birds with white backs and or other white patches are occasionally recorded of eastern Australia particularly off southern NSW. What is interesting is that you state that the bird which you observed appeared significantly larger than all other Shy's present.

Birds from the Australian populations are known to forage in the Bengeulen Current off South Africa.

From Tim Reid of Hobart, Tasmania:

There are occasional pale Shy's on nests ( I think only on Albatross Island, not the Mewstone or Pedra)*. I would like to check but I think they are usually only young birds. They vary from birds that are almost totally white, to birds with mainly white backs. I have seen one totally white Shy at sea (rather confusing!), though it didn't come close enough to see the bill or eye colour, and I have seen a couple of birds with mantles mostly white but with some brown in them.

* Thalassarche cauta breeds on these 3 islands off Tasmania. Nigel Brothers (a Tas man) has documented many Mewstone juveniles flying west and reaching SA waters in 60 days.

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