Definition and Flight Information

» Albatross Definition and Flight Information

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»» Interesting Species of Albatross - Black Footed, Short Tailed and Sooty

The name Albatross derives from a corruption of the Spanish and Portuguese Alcatraz or Alcaduz by which name the Pelican is known in some parts of the Iberian peninsula and the Spanish colonies in the West Indies (The word is Arabic, al-cadous, adopted from the Greek kados, water-pot or bucket (cf. Dozy & Engelmann, Glossaire des mots espagn. et portug. derives de l' Arabe, ed. 2, p. 79), and especially signifying the leathern bucket of an irrigating machine. Thence it was applied to the Pelican, from the resemblance of that bird's pouch, in which it was believed to carry water to its young in the wilderness.); but it is also applied vaguely to other large sea-birds. By English navigators its use and definition was formerly quite as indiscriminate, and its spelling no less so, the forms Alcatraza, Alcatraze, Algatross, and Albitross, occurring in various authors-the last being that found in Shelvocke's Voyage (London: 1726), wherein (pp. 72, 73) is recorded the incident that, on Wordsworth's suggestion, Coleridge immortalized in his Rime of the Ancient Mariner. In process of time the name has become limited to birds of the genus Thalassarche, Phoebastria, Phoebetria, and particularly Diomedeidae, a family of the group Tubinares, and especially to the largest species of the genus, Diomedea exulans, the "Man-of-war bird" or Wandering Albatross.

Although the Wandering Albatross, has been so long the observed of all observers among voyagers to the Southern Ocean, even as recently as at the latter part of the 19th there had been no one who seems to have had given, from life, its finished portrait on the wing, and hardly such a description as would enable those who have not seen it to form an idea of its look. The diagrammatic sketch by Captain (later Professor) Hutton (born 1836, died 1905), shown here, is probably a more the most accurate representation of it than could be found in the conventional figures which abounded in books at that time.

Albatross picture
Diagrammatic Picture of Albatross

Information about the Flight of the Albatross

Writers who apply to the Flight of the Wandering Albatross the epithets graceful, grand, majestic, and the like, convey the bird's extremely characteristic appearance. The ease with which it maintains itself in the air, "sailing" for a long while without any perceptible motion of its wings, whether gliding over the billows, or boldly shooting aloft again to descend and possibly alight on the surface, has been dwelt upon often, as has its capacity to perform these feats equally in a seeming calm or in the face of a gale.  A most vivid description is that of James Anthony Froude in his 1886 book, Oceana, pages 65-66, which was cited by Sir W. Buller (B. New Zeal. ed. 2, ii. p. 195).  Mr Froude told of how The Albatross "wheels in circles round and round, and for ever round the ship - now far behind, now sweeping past in a long rapid curve, like a perfect skater on an untouched field of ice." and tells of the almost effortless way that the bird flies near the water with rarely a stroke of its wings, seeming to disappear between the high and low waves, then rising above the waves' crests with a tiny adjustment to the inclination of the wings which are usually parallel with the sea.  But when turning to rise or to change its direction, the wings can point at such an angle that one aims at the sky whereas the other points to the water.

Since those times, with the advent of modern photography, film and video, both still and action pictures have shown this feathered aeronaut with becoming dignity.

The mode in which the "sailing" of the Albatross is effected has been much discussed, but Professor Hutton in Ibis, 1865, page 296 summarised what is now known as the "dynamic soaring" method that this bird uses, in his description that it is "by combining, according to the laws of mechanics, this pressure of the air against his wings with the force of gravity, and by using his head and tail as bow and stern rudders, that the Albatross is enabled to sail in any direction he pleases, so long as his momentum lasts."

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