Laysan albatross -- 黑背信天翁 (Phoebastria immutabilis)

Laysan albatross courtship display
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Laysan albatross fact file

Laysan albatross description

GenusPhoebastria (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).

Albatros de Laysan.
Length: 80 cm (2)
Wingspan: 2.1 m (2)
3.2 kg (2)

Laysan albatross biology

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).


Laysan albatross range

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).

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Laysan albatross habitat

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


Laysan albatross status

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

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened


Laysan albatross threats

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).


Laysan albatross conservation

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).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

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Diverse group of arthropods (a phylum of animals with jointed limbs and a hard chitinous exoskeleton) characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, woodlice and barnacles.
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.

Image credit

Laysan albatross courtship display  
Laysan albatross courtship display

© Michael Pitts /

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