Laysan Albatross 2016

Princeville, Kauai 2016

One of the most marvelous sights in the Pacific ocean is the graceful glide of a Laysan Albatross at play among the winds and waves. These expert soarers can travel hundreds of miles per day with barely a wingbeat. They nest on islands of the tropical Pacific, but they may head out to Japan, the Aleutian Islands, or California to feed. Laysan Albatrosses are numerous, though they face threats from longline fishing, plastic trash in the ocean, and predation by dogs, rats, and cats.

Size & Shape
Laysan Albatrosses are very large seabirds (though they are among the smaller albatrosses). They have very long, very narrow wings. The neck is thick and the head is large.

Color Pattern
Laysan Albatrosses are white-headed birds with dark gray-brown upperwings and mostly white underwings (with variable dark markings). The underparts are clean white. They have a dark patch around the eye. In flight, note the dark back, white rump, and dark tail.

They fly by dynamic soaring: gliding low over the waves and then wheeling up into the sky to take advantage of the wind. They rarely flap their wings. They feed by sitting on the water, often at night, catching squid and other small prey with their bills.

Laysan Albatrosses spend most of their time on the open Pacific Ocean, spanning tropical waters up to the southern Bering Sea. They nest on open, sandy or grassy islands, mostly in the Hawaiian Island chain.

Cool Facts

  • Laysan Albatrosses are masterful soarers, able to fly great distances and through the fiercest storms while barely even flapping their wings. To a large extent, the faster the wind blows the more maneuverable they area
  • One Laysan Albatross found its way back to Midway Island from the Philippines—a journey of 4,120 miles. Another made its way back to Midway from Washington state traveling at an average of almost 350 miles per day.
  • Ever heard of a “tubenose” before? That’s the term birders and biologists use to describe albatrosses and their relatives (petrels, shearwaters, fulmars, and storm-petrels). These birds have a pair of bony tubes above or inside the bill that excrete salt—allowing these ocean-going birds to drink seawater without becoming dehydrated.
  • Albatrosses’ amazing size and graceful flight led sailors to regard them as good luck. In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a crewmember foolishly shoots an albatross, setting off a string of terrible misfortunes.
  • When the wind is calm, albatrosses have trouble taking off. They typically need to face into the wind and run along the ground or water’s surface, wings spread, to take off; or to launch themselves from a high point.
  • The Laysan Albatross gets its name from its Laysan breeding colony in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, where it is the second most common seabird.
  • Laysan Albatrosses live very long lives. They usually don’t start breeding successfully until they are 8 or 9. The oldest known individual was 65 years old, when she was identified in 2016 by the band on her leg while she was at her nest.


Laysan Albatross Range Map

Range Map

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