Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis)

Spanish: Albatros de Laysan
GenusPhoebastria (1)
SizeLength: 80 cm (2)
Wingspan: 2.1 m (2)
Weight3.2 kg (2)

The Laysan albatross is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Named after one of the islands on which it breeds, the Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) is a large bird with extremely long wings. Males are slightly larger, but both sexes have a white head, body and undertail feathers, with dark upperwings and back, and black and white patterning on the underwings. The bill and feet are pinkish (3). A dark patch surrounds the eye (2).

Most Laysan albatrosses breed on the northwestern Hawaiian Archipelago and off Baja California, and spend the non-breeding season out at sea in the North Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea (2). Other populations are found in Canada, Japan, Mexico, and Norfolk Island in the Pacific Ocean (1).

An open ocean species, the Laysan albatross comes to land exclusively to breed, at which time it inhabits open sandy or grassy areas (4).

After reaching sexual maturity at eight to nine years, the Laysan albatross switches from permanently living at sea and returns to land for nearly 10 months of the year to raise a single chick. First-time breeders engage in an elaborate courtship display which establishes pair bonds lasting for the rest of their 40 year lives. The male and female build a shallow nest in a colony based on open ground surrounded by tall vegetation. The female lays a single egg which both sexes take turns incubating for nine weeks. The chick is fed by both parents, who alternately tend to the chick and embark on trips of several days to forage at sea. Upon their return, the stomach oil and partially digested stomach contents are regurgitated to feed the chick (4). At the end of the breeding season in July, most birds head northwest towards Japan, and then northeast towards the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska. They then migrate south to Hawaii for the next breeding season (4).

Whilst normally quiet and solitary at sea, large flocks may gather to exploit fish discards from factory trawlers. The Laysan albatross seizes food at the surface and by shallow diving to catch squid, fish and crustaceans (2).

Massive exploitation of the Laysan albatross for its feathers in the first half of the 20th century had a devastating effect on population numbers, and whilst it is known that population numbers improved following a ban between 1980 and 1995, they have yet to resume their original numbers. Major threats persist, and until these have been reduced, the Laysan albatross cannot be considered to be out of danger. Longline fisheries and illegal driftnet operations were estimated to have killed 17,500 birds (or one percent of the population) in 1990 alone. Since then, estimates suggest that sea bird avoidance measures have reduced losses. Oil spills, plastic ingestion, lead poisoning from a disused military base, human disturbance and collisions with aircraft are also threats (5).

In 1991, a 50 nautical mile Protected Species Zone was set up around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands which banned longline fishing in order to protect monk seals. Half the breeding population of Laysan albatrosses breed within this region, and have consequently benefited from this protection, and have even been able to extend their breeding range. However, the implementation of proposed conversation measures is still crucial to the recovery of this species, including: assessing long term trends, satellite tracking to analyse temporal and spatial overlap with longline fisheries, as well as promoting awareness within longline fleets (5).

For further information on the Laysan albatross:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2011)
  2. Sea Map (November, 2004)
  3. About Birding (November, 2004)
  4. Bird Web (November, 2004)
  5. BirdLife International (August, 2010)