The Albatross Diorama is near the Natural History Information Centre on the First Floor.
It shows the courtship display of a pair of wandering albatrosses Diomedea exulans (Maori name: toroa) at their nest on a subantarctic island. To the left of the albatrosses a brown skua Catharacta skua lonnbergi (hakoakoa) has brought food to its chick.
The diorama is the Museum’s only surviving example of a large, dome-backed natural history diorama, of which several were built in the 1970s. The glass is angled forward to minimise reflections for the viewer.
All the birds were collected in the early 1930s and mounted by the Museums taxidermist, Charles Dover.
The male albatross, with its wings outstretched, was collected in November 1931 in the Tasman Sea aboard the S.S. "Marama". The albatross on the nest was found near Dargaville in June 1932. The adult brown skua and chick were collected at Stewart Island. In 1933 the albatrosses were placed centrally in a glass case in the museums first Bird Hall (on the first floor at the front of the building, 1929-1969). In 1970 they were incorporated into the present large diorama for the entrance-way to the museums second Bird Hall (opened 1972; dismantled 1996).
The plaster dome was painted, and the diorama assembled, by the Museums preparator, Leo Cappel.
Wandering albatrosses, with the other “great albatrosses”, are the worlds largest seabirds. They have the greatest wing-span of any bird (3.5 m), and the longest incubation period (often more than 80 days).
Wandering albatrosses range widely in the southern oceans, breeding at various islands including the Macquarie, Auckland, Campbell and Antipodes groups south of New Zealand. They have difficulty taking off from land, so they nest near a rise where winds will help them to fly. Adults mate for life and may live for 40-50 years. A single egg is laid in January or February. Both sexes incubate in turn, and brood and feed the nestling, which fledges in December-March. This is such a long breeding cycle that the parents breed only every second year.
Brown skuas are related to gulls, and breed on subantarctic islands around the southern oceans. While breeding, their main foods are eggs and chicks robbed from other birds nests, and smaller seabirds which they catch and kill.