Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses occasionally visit Marion Island, but do not breed there

IYNA fledgling King Penguin Bay Marion 15 April 2005 Bruce Dyer 1
Fledgling Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross, King Penguin Bay, Marion Island, 15 April 2005, photograph by Bruce Dyer

Five species of albatrosses breed in numbers on South Africa’s sub-Antarctic Prince Edward Islands in the southern Indian Ocean, with two more species recorded breeding as singletons.  Four species breed on both Marion and Prince Edward; they are the Wandering Diomedea exulans, Grey-headed Thalassarche chrysostoma, Sooty Phoebetria fusca and Light-mantled P. palpebrata.  The fifth, the Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross T. carteri, breeds only on the smaller Prince Edward Island, 22 km away from Marion.  Additionally, a single Black-browed Albatross T. melanophris has attempted breeding (with a Grey-headed Albatross partner) on Marion over a number of years (click here) and a “Shy-type” Albatross,  thought to be a White-capped T. steadi, was found incubating on Prince Edward in 2008; its partner unknown (click here).

Prince Edward Island is rarely visited but on Marion Island team researchers have studied seabirds year-round for many years, when sightings of non-breeding visitors, both seabirds and terrestrial birds, have been reported from time to time.  These vagrant records were summarized in a 2010 publication.  However, it explicitly stated that it did not consider records of globally Endangered Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses seen ashore on Marion Island.  Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses occasionally seen ashore on Marion over the years have generally gone unreported in the literature, although there is a published but undated  BxW photograph from 1965/66 (No. 76 by E.M. van Zinderen Bakker, Jr) of an adult "visiting Ship's Cove" on Marion Island.

IYNA Marion vz Bakker
The 1960s record, see details in text above

To fill this gap, we list here eight records made between 2005 and 2020 that have appeared in team newsletters or have been made directly to one of us.

Records of Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses ashore on Marion Island by month

15 April 2005 fledgling King Penguin Bay
  May 2014 King Penguin Bay
  August 2016 Bullard Beach
15 October 2007 adult Long Ridge between Sea Elephant and Blue Petrel Bays (click here)
05 November 2013 Sealer’s Beach
26 November 2018 Macaroni Bay
  December 2020 adult Grey-headed Albatross Ridge
18 December 2011 adult Archway Bay

indian yellow nosed albatross marion island by chris oosthuizen
The 2007 adult Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross on Long Ridge, photograph by Chris Oosthuizen

According to the ACAP Species Assessment, Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses arrive in colonies to commence breeding around the beginning of August and chicks fledge over April - May.  The lack of mid-winter records for Marion for June and July is thus not surprising.  Both the two records from April and May are likely to be of fledglings, whereas the others are all likely to be breeding adults that have “gone astray”.  All but one of the Marion records are from the east coast of the island that faces Prince Edward, the assumed source of all eight birds.  This, however, is to be expected as this coast is more regularly visited and surveyed than elsewhere.  The exception is the adult reported from Grey-headed Albatross Ridge on the island’s southward-facing coast in December 2020.  This locality is the main breeding site for Grey-headed Albatrosses, which we assume was a source of attraction for the vagrant.  If Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses are ever to breed on Marion Island, this is likely where it would take place, given that these two mollymawk albatrosses breed in mixed colonies on Prince Edward Island.

Indian Atlantic Gough Chris Jones
Gough second IYNA Sept 2021 Vonica Perold

Left:  The vagrant Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross with its paler head is on the left.  On landing on Gough Island, it engaged in bill fencing with the Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross on the right, photograph by Christopher Jones
Right: The second record of an
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross on Gough Island; photograph by Vonica Perold

Much farther away than to 22-km gap between Marion and Prince Edward and well outside its breeding range a vagrant Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross was photographed ashore on Gough Island in the South Atlantic in January 2019, where it briefly interacted with a resident Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross T. chlororhynhchos (click here).  A second bird was seen and photographed on Gough in September 2021 (click here),  Both birds were adults (and possibly were the same individual as they were seen in the same vicinity).


Jones, M.G.W., Techow, N.M.S., Risi, M.M., Jones, C.W., Hagens, Q.A., Taylor, F. & Ryan, P.G. 2019.  Hybridization and cuckoldry between black-browed and grey-headed albatrosses.  Antarctic Science 32-10-14.

Oosthuizen, W.C., Dyer, B.H. & de Bruyn, P.J.N. 2010.  Vagrant birds ashore at the Prince Edward Islands, southern Indian Ocean, from 1987 to 2009.  African Journal of Marine Science 31: 445-450.

Phillips, R.A., Cooper, J. & Burg, T.M. 2018.  Breeding‐site vagrancy and hybridization in albatross. Ibis 160: 907-913.

Ryan, P. [G.] 2009.  Sixth albatross species breeding on Prince Edward Island.  Africa - Birds & Birding 14(2): 14.

Ryan, P.G., Dilley, B.J., Risi, M.M., Jones, C.W., Osborne, A., Schofield, A., Repetto, J. & Ratcliffe, N. 2019.  Three new seabird species recorded at Tristan da Cunha archipelago. Seabird 32: 122-125.

Ryan, P.G., Jones, M.G.W., Dyer, B.M., Upfold, L. & Crawford, R.J.M. 2009.  Recent population estimates and trends in numbers of albatrosses and giant petrels breeding at the sub-Antarctic Prince Edward Islands.  African Journal of Marine Science 31: jus

Van Zinderen Bakker Sr, E.M., Winterbottom, J.M. & Dyer, R.A. (Eds) 1971.  Marion and Prince Edward Islands. Report on the South African Biological and Geological Expedition / 1965-1966.  Cape Town: A.A. Balkema.  427 pp.

John Cooper, ACAP News Correspondent & Bruce Dyer, 15 December 2022

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