Moult in black-browed and grey-headed albatrosses Diomedea melanophris and D. chrysostoma

We recorded the age of individual wing and tail feathers of Black-browed and Grey-headed Albatrosses Diomedea melanophris and D. chrysostoma of known age and breeding status at Bird Island, South Georgia. Breeders and non-breeders of both species moult their rectrices annually. Non-breeders moult primaries biennially. In the first year of a cycle, the outer three and some inner primaries are moulted descendantly; in the next year the inner primaries are moulted ascendantly, starting from primary seven. There is a general progression to moulting equal numbers of primaries in each half of the cycle by the time breeding starts at about 10 years of age. Grey-headed Albatrosses usually moult fewer primaries than Black-browed Albatrosses, particularly as 3-year-olds, when they undertake substantial plumage change in body moult. Most secondaries in Black-browed Albatrosses have been replaced once by age 4 years. Breeding Black-browed Albatrosses continue the moult pattern established as immatures whether they fail or not, as do failed Grey-headed Albatrosses. Successful Grey-headed Albatrosses, which breed again 16 months later, moult their three innermost primaries after breeding in the remainder of the current year and, after a period when moult is interrupted, renew the remaining primaries the following year. Comparisons between species and between failed and successful birds within species indicate that moult rate is not closely linked to the length of the interval between breeding attempts. Interspecies differences are better explained by breeding latitude, with tropical albatrosses moulting twice as fast as sub-Antarctic species, possibly reflecting food availability outside the breeding season.


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Authors: Prince, P. A., Rodwell, S., Jones, M., Rothery, P.

1 April, 1993
Ibis / 135
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