Black-footed Albatross: This large seabird has long wings, a gray-brown body, a white ring around the face at the base of the bill and pale gray upper tail coverts. Most have dark under tail coverts, some have a white under tail and belly. Highly-variable seasonal plumage. Most frequently sighted off the Pacific Coast of North America. Dynamic soaring. Glides for hours. Feeds mainly on squid and fish. Sexes are similar.
Range and Habitat
Black-footed Albatross: Ranges from the sub-Arctic sea, beyond the Hawaiian Islands, to the China Sea and to the North American coast, as far as Baja California. Once nested on many islands in the Pacific Ocean, but now breeds only on the Hawaiian archipelago. When not at sea, they choose bare slopes and coastlines with little vegetation, or with short turf, on which to breed.
There are four families in the PROCELLARIIFORMES (pronounced pro-sel-lehr-EYE-ih-FOR-meez), an order that includes seabird families such as storm-petrels, shearwaters and the giant albatrosses.
There are twenty-one species of albatrosses in four genera in the family Diomedeidae (die-uh-med-EYE-dee), a bird family distributed throughout the oceans of the world, less so in the North Atlantic.
One species of albatross in one genus, the Black-footed Albatross, occurs in the South Pacific and in the waters around Palau. This species is a rare vagrant to Palau, mostly from July to September.
In North American waters, eight species of albatross in four genera have been recorded. These include the dark-plumaged Black-footed Albatross, the huge Wandering Albatross and the endangered Short-tailed Albatross.
Albatrosses are known for their sea-faring abilities; their long, thin wings enabling them to remain airborne without flapping for very long periods of time. The Wandering Albatross is known for having the longest wingspan of any living bird; measurements of up to twelve feet from wingtip to wingtip have been noted in this master of flight.
Albatrosses are large birds with short tails, medium length necks and very long, thin wings. They have large, strong bills that, like other Procellariiformes, have tube-like structures to excrete excess salt water. Perfectly suited to their marine environment, members of this family also have webbed feet.
North American albatrosses are mostly white and black in coloration. Apart from the dark colored Black-footed Albatross and dark juvenile plumages, adult albatross species are mostly white, some with dark markings on the face and dark plumage on the back or in the wings. Brighter colors such as yellow or pink occur in the bills of some species.
A family primarily distributed in the Southern Hemisphere, most species on the North American list have been recorded as vagrants. Nevertheless, of regular occurrence off the west coast of North America are the three species that breed in the Northern Hemisphere; the fairly common Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses and the rare Short-tailed Albatross. All albatross species nest on isolated, oceanic islands and are pelagic birds of the deep waters rarely seen from shore.
Although albatross species don’t undertake annual migrations based on the seasons, after the breeding season, they disperse widely with young birds remaining on the open ocean for three or more years.
Albatrosses nest in colonies and form strong pair bonds during the breeding season, but are solitary birds of the open seas at other times. Although they will take carrion on land while breeding, most foraging takes place on the surface of the water for fish, squid, and offal.
All albatross species are endangered or threatened; the Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses of the North Pacific being the least threatened. Long-line fishing, a type of commercial fishing that uses mile-long cables with hundreds of individual hooked lines spaced out along their length, drowns opportunistically-feeding birds that take the baited hooks as they are being reeled out and thus poses the largest threat to most Albatross species. Albatrosses are also susceptible to depredation by rats and other disturbances to their fragile nesting grounds. As large, long-lived birds that take years to reach maturity, they take a long time to rebuild their populations because of their low reproductive rate.
Albatross species have two methods of gliding flight that help them fly for long periods without wasting energy by flapping their wings; slope soaring and dynamic soaring. In slope soaring, the bird allows the wind to lift it up and then glides down at an angle to move forward. In dynamic soaring, the bird actually uses the wind that comes off of the waves for lift. For these reasons, albatrosses are mostly restricted to the windy, wavy seas of the Southern Hemisphere.