Photo: Glenn Bartley/Vireo

Priority Bird

Black-footed Albatross

Phoebastria nigripes

Restricted to the North Pacific, this is the only albatross seen commonly off the North American coastline. Its closest nesting colonies are in Hawaii. At sea it often follows ships, feeding on refuse in their wake.
Conservation status Far less abundant than Laysan Albatross. Total population estimated at significantly fewer than 100,000 pairs. In the past, thousands were killed annually by drift nets and longline fisheries. These threats have been reduced, but now many die after ingesting large amounts of plastics and other toxins. Sea level rise is likely to drown out nesting sites on low-lying islands.
Family Albatrosses
Habitat Open ocean. In foraging at sea, most common over upwellings or over continental shelf, but rarely close to shore. Nests on sandy beaches and other open flat areas on islands in Pacific.
Restricted to the North Pacific, this is the only albatross seen commonly off the North American coastline. Its closest nesting colonies are in Hawaii. At sea it often follows ships, feeding on refuse in their wake.
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Feeding Behavior

Forages while swimming by seizing items at surface, up-ending to reach underwater, or diving short distances underwater with wings partly spread. Feeds mostly early morning and evening.


Eggs

One. Creamy white, spotted with brown. Incubation (by both sexes) averages 65-66 days. Young: For about 18-20 days after hatching, one parent broods and guards the nestling while other forages for food, taking turns every 1 or 2 days. Young is fed by regurgitation, by both parents, until it leaves the nest. Period from hatching to departure from island is about 140-150 days.


Young

For about 18-20 days after hatching, one parent broods and guards the nestling while other forages for food, taking turns every 1 or 2 days. Young is fed by regurgitation, by both parents, until it leaves the nest. Period from hatching to departure from island is about 140-150 days.

Diet

Fish, squid, crustaceans. Around Hawaii, feeds heavily on the eggs of flying fish. Also eats many squid, adult fish including flying fish, and crustaceans. Will scavenge carrion or refuse at sea.


Nesting

First breeds at age 5 years or older. Courtship "dance" of pairs is complex, includes many ritualized movements including bowing head, mutual preening, swinging head from side to side, pointing bill straight up while calling. Nest: Preferred nest sites are on higher parts of open sandy beaches. Nest is a simple, shallow depression, with a slightly built-up rim.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Some can be found throughout North Pacific at all seasons but adults concentrate near nesting islands (Hawaii and off Japan) from November to June; most restricted in February when feeding young nestlings. Most numerous off North American coast from June through August.

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Migration

Some can be found throughout North Pacific at all seasons but adults concentrate near nesting islands (Hawaii and off Japan) from November to June; most restricted in February when feeding young nestlings. Most numerous off North American coast from June through August.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Shrieks and squeals during fights over food; on nesting grounds, makes a variety of bill-clapping sounds, quacks, and whistles.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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