Recruitment of Wandering Albatrosses Diomedea exulans to the breeding population at South Georgia took between 2 and 8 years after they first returned to their natal colony. In successive seasons, from first return to pairing, the date of arrival became earlier and the number of days spent ashore and the time spent interacting with other birds increased. Pairing birds arrived earlier and spent more time ashore than birds of similar experience which did not pair in that season. In the season following pairing they returned at the same time as breeding birds, but most did not breed; when ashore they spent much of their time alone or with their partner at the nest site. They left in mid‐season before other non‐breeders and bred the following season. Some birds accomplished this process by spending much time (50–60 days) ashore in two or three seasons but most birds spent a similar total time ashore spread over more seasons. Until the season prior to breeding, the number of birds of the opposite sex with whom interactions occurred was proportional to the amount of time spent ashore. There was, therefore, considerable scope for inter‐individual assessment of potential partners before interactions were confined essentially to a single partner in the season before the first breeding attempt.