COLUMN: Christmas bird? How about the albatross?


This week’s guest column comes from Dr Chris Andrews, visitor services officer at RSPB Frampton Marsh...

What bird do you think of at Christmas?

Maybe it is the robin, a ubiquitous figure on our Christmas cards. Or for those with their minds on earthly delights, a turkey. Roasting to a golden brown in the oven.

But what of the albatross? Albatrosses are a family of 22 large seabirds, usually to be found in the Pacific and Southern Oceans. They are great wanderers, living far out at sea and only coming in to land to nest. This they do every one or two years (depending on the species), raising a single chick. They can potentially live for many years. The world’s oldest known wild bird is an albatross named Wisdom, living on Midway Island and still raising chicks at the age of 62.

As they rely on raising just one chick at a time, this makes albatrosses vulnerable species. Any drop in the population will take decades to replace, and in recent years there have been such drops.

Fish such as tuna and swordfish are caught in the albatrosses realm, often using a method known as ‘long-line’ fishing. A fishing line laden with baited hooks is trawled off the back of a boat. Sometimes these lines are miles long and can have a couple of thousand hooks. The trouble is that many seabirds, including albatrosses, have learnt to associate the fishing boats with food, and try to pick up the bait. They then get hooked, dragged underwater and drown. Many species of albatross are now endangered because of this.

But not all is lost. The RSPB together with its international partners is sending people out to talk to the fishermen, teaching simple ways to avoid catching these marvellous birds. The fishermen are generally very happy to help, after all every bird they catch is a fish they didn’t catch. In places where the project has been, the number of albatrosses caught has dropped dramatically.

Of course, doing this isn’t cheap. But there is a way you can help, from the comfort of your own home and without spending anything. At this time of year we enjoy sending each other Christmas cards. When yours arrive through the post, save the postage stamps! Cut them off the envelopes and bring them into the visitor centre at Frampton Marsh nature reserve. The RSPB collects stamps and sells them on to collectors, the money raised going towards the albatross project. So thanks to your efforts, albatrosses can continue to soar across the world’s oceans for years to come.