Albatrosses are Monogamous, But ‘Divorce’ Rates Increase in Harsh Environmental Conditions

Did you know that the albatross is one of the most loyal birds and they’re typically monogamous once they find their partner in life? But recent studies showed that these usually monogamous birds can ‘divorce’, too –and the higher rate has been linked with warm ocean temperatures when conditions are harsher than usual! Just like people, huh?

Albatross ‘Divorce’ Rates Up When in Harsh Conditions

Scientists have long been fascinated at how most species of birds are monogamous. In fact, it is estimated that 90% of bird species are monogamous.

They might have different breeding seasons and varied nesting styles, but many of these birds stick with one partner for life. They don’t even have marriage documents to show they’re partners yet they remain faithful to their vow.

But recent findings by researchers reported in “Proceedings of the Royal Society B” showed that the ‘divorce’ rate has increased from 4% to 8% among albatrosses in part of the Falkland Islands.

A conservation biologist at the University of Lisbon in Portugal, Francesco Ventura, explained that albatrosses can live for decades and spend many of these years searching for food in the ocean. They only return to land for breeding.

That’s why it’s ideal for them to stick to one partner. It improves coordination and familiarity, which can be necessary when raising their young.

Biologists have observed that when breeding fails, the female usually leaves to search for a new partner. They also noticed that breeding is especially difficult when the ocean temperatures are warmer, leading to more ‘divorces.’

What’s surprising is that there were also several females who ‘divorced’ their partners even if breeding had been successful. They believe that the harsher environmental conditions due to the higher ocean temperatures can be blamed for these higher separation rates.

How Does Divorce Happen in Birds?

According to the study conducted by Ventura’s team who analyzed an albatross colony from 2004 to 2019 on New Island in the Falkland Islands, albatrosses often fly off in pairs and live together for many years.

A female albatross typically lays just one egg during the breeding season. Females whose eggs didn’t hatch or those whose hatched chicks didn’t survive were most likely to leave their partners in search of a new one.

There were some years when the divorce rate was 1%; the team noticed that these were the good years when the ocean temperatures were ideal for breeding. But when the conditions are harsh, the divorce rate went up as high as 8%.

They speculate that the females may be attributing their failure to breed with their partners. So, just like humans, they’re leaving the guy for good.

While it might be a soap opera-like story, this can be alarming because higher divorce rates may lead to the albatross population decline.

Let’s just hope they won’t get extinct in this manner.

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