A meme on social media that states albatrosses go “years without landing” has triggered confusion among users, who wonder how these birds would eat if flying non-stop for such long periods of time. But the meme is missing key context: while albatrosses can go years before they land on ground again, usually when returning to mate, they do land on and touch the water’s surface for feeding purposes.
An example of this meme can be seen here . One comment reads, “6 years! Wow! But how do they eat while flying for up to 6 years?”
Albatrosses, in the Diomedeidae family, are large seabirds that can have a wingspan of up to 11 feet, as documented by National Geographic here . They are known for coming ashore only to breed ( here ).
This does not mean, however, that the bird spends years in the air flying without stopping.
In a statement emailed to Reuters, Charles Eldermire, Bird Cams Project Leader of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology ( here ) confirmed that albatrosses indeed land on water to feed, though they may spend days aloft.
Andrea Angel, Albatross Task Force Manager for nonprofit BirdLife South Africa ( here ) explained to Reuters via email that albatrosses feed solely from the ocean and therefore need to land on water to do so. As they cannot dive to great depths, albatrosses scavenge for garbage off fishing boats, or capture fish or squid close to the surface of the ocean. Footage of albatrosses feeding can be seen by BBC Earth youtu.be/k25zCNP9X1s?t=43 and in a video featured in the Encyclopedia of New Zealand here .
It is true that the larger albatross species can take “up to 6 years” before maturing and returning to the island usually they fledged ( here ), to find a mate, according to Angel.
During the nestling period of a single egg, which mates take turns caring for and can last up to 10 months, Wandering albatrosses for example ( here ), return to sea to look for food, while the other mate stays on the island with their chick ( here ).
As adults, depending on the species, albatrosses only return to their breeding islands “every year or two,” according to Angel.
Nonetheless, albatrosses “definitely spend more time in the air than on the water’s surface” as they use up more energy with these landings than with flying, she concluded.
Due to their unique flight mode (further reading about this can be found here: here , here ) flight recordings have shown that albatrosses are indeed capable of flying up to 10,000 miles in a single journey and circumnavigate the earth in 46 days ( here ).
Missing context. While albatrosses may go years before returning to their island (usually to mate), they do touch and land on the water’s surface out at sea.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .
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