Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

Keeping it warm: egg temperatures of southern albatrosses

Philipp Boersch-Supan (Department of Geography, University of Florida, Gainesville, USA) and colleagues have published in the journal Emu Austral Ornithologyon albatross egg temperatures.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Knowledge of thermal traits is essential for understanding and modelling physiological responses to environmental change. Egg temperatures are poorly studied in most tubenose species. We employed a contactless infrared thermometer to measure egg and nest surface temperatures throughout the incubation period for four albatross species at Bird Island, South Georgia. The observed mean warm-side temperature of 33.4°C for Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans) was similar to measurements obtained from this species using dummy eggs elsewhere. Observed mean warm-side temperatures for Black-browed Albatross (Thalassarche melanophris), Grey-headed Albatross (Thalassarche chrysostoma), and Light-mantled Albatross (Phoebetria palpebrata), reported here for the first time, were 30.7–31.5°C, which is lower than the egg temperatures reported for most Procellariiformes. Temperature gradients across viable eggs declined by up to 9°C during incubation, reflecting increased embryonic circulation and metabolic heat production. This suggests that bioenergetic models should not assume constant egg temperatures during embryo development. Non-viable (addled) eggs could be identified by large temperature gradients in late incubation, indicating that infrared thermometry can be used to determine whether the embryo has died or the egg is infertile in monitoring and managed breeding (e.g. translocation) programmes. Egg temperatures were correlated with ground temperatures, indicating that incubated eggs are vulnerable to environmental variability.”

An incubating Wandering Albatross on Marion Island, photograph by Linda Clokie

With thanks to Richard Phillips.


Boersch-Supan, P.H., Johnson, L.R., Phillips, R.A. & Ryan, S.J. 2017. Surface temperatures of albatross eggs and nests. Emu Austral Ornithology

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 22 December 2017