The wandering albatross is the largest of all flying mammals. It has a body the size of a goose, but its wings stretch wide enough to span a modest living-room.
They ride the Roaring Forties, that river of rough air that storms around the largely land-free circle of ocean that surrounds Antarctica. They coast on the currents of air created by large waves and by the friction of the wind against the waves. These provide 98 percent of the energy they need to fly – only 2 percent of it comes from their muscles – and thus apparently effortlessly achieve speeds of 50-70 miles per hour. They may stay out of sight of land for a year at a time and they cover vast distances. One albatross fitted with a radio transmitter and tracked by satellite flew just under 10,000 miles in 30 days.
They mate for life but lead several lives; the partners meet up again every other year at the same nesting site on a remote Southern Ocean island, such as South Georgia in the South Atlantic, Campbell Island south of New Zealand, or one of the Crozet Islands in the far south of the Indian Ocean. The chick takes so long to mature that it is still there when the Antarctic winter falls, clinging to the nest with its claws in the blizzard and high winds until it is ready to make its own way into the watery world. If it survives this it may live as long as a human.