Albatrosses and petrels, also known as tubenoses, include diving petrels, gadfly petrels, albatrosses, shearwaters, fulmars and prions, about 100 living species in all. These birds spend most of their time at sea, gliding over the open water and dipping down to snatch meals of fish, plankton, and other small marine animals. Tubenoses are colonial birds, returning to land only to breed (breeding sites vary among species, but in general, these birds prefer remote islands and rugged coastal cliffs), and they are monogamous, forming long-term bonds between mating pairs.
A unifying anatomical characteristic of albatrosses and petrels is their nostrils, which are enclosed in external tubes that run from the base of their bill towards its tip. Amazingly enough, these birds can drink seawater: they remove salt from the water using a special gland located at the base of their bills, after which the excess salt is excreted out through their tubular nostrils.
The largest tubenose species is the wandering albatross, the wingspan of which can reach 12 feet. The smallest is the least storm petrel, with a wingspan of just over one foot.
Did you know?
Seabirds don’t usually get much credit for their olfactory skills. Nevertheless, many rely on scent to help track down prey; albatrosses can follow a mouth-watering aroma for over 12 miles.