Waved Albatross

The Waved Albatross, Phoebastria irrorata - also known as Galapagos Albatross - is the only member of the Diomedeidae family located in the tropics. When they forage, the Waved Albatross follow straight paths to a single site off the coast of Peru, about 1,000 km distant to the east. During the non-breeding season, these birds reside primarily in the areas of the Ecuador and Peruvian coasts. The lifespan of this species may reach 40 to 45 years.


These are medium-sized albatrosses, measuring about 86 cm (34 in) long, weighing in at 3.4 kg (7.5 lbs) and having a wingspan 2.27 m (7.5 ft). They are distinctive for their yellowish-cream neck and head, which contrasts with their mostly brownish bodies. Even more distinctive is the very long, bright yellow bill; which looks disproportionately large in comparison to the relatively small head and long, slender neck. Chicks have brown fluffy feathers.

Diet and foraging

The primary food sources of the Waved Albatross are fish, squid, and crustaceans. But they have also been observed to scavenge for other food sources, including the regurgitated food of other birds. When foraging the Waved Albatross finds points in the ocean where prey will be more surfaced, this is the most effective way for the waved albatross to get its food. Waved Albatroses will forage 10 or even 100 kilometers away from the place where their chicks are nesting to get food for them.

Endangerment and protection

The population of Waved Albatrosses on the Galápagos is protected by national park personnel. But limited range, bycatch by long-line fishing, disturbance via tourism, disease, and the effects of illegal fishing in the nearby waters place them in considerable jeopardy. Especially long-line fishing seems to be making a severe impact on the species, which was uplisted to Vulnerable from Near Threatened by the IUCN in 2000. Despite some 34,700 adult birds still occurring in 2001, their numbers have apparently started to decrease at an unknown rate more recently, probably due to longline fishing which also upsets the sex ratio (males being killed more frequently). As the current situation makes the population highly vulnerable to a catastrophic collapse to extinction, it is uplisted to Critically Endangered status in the 2007 IUCN Red List.


The Waved Albatross breeds exclusively on Española Island in the Galápagos archipelago. The nests are built on areas of lava with boulders and sparse vegetation. The courtship of the Waved Albatross is a very elusive and spectacular site to see, it includes: rapid bill circling and bowing, beak clacking, and an upraised bill to make a whoo hoo sound. The eggs are laid between April and June and incubated for two months after that. When the eggs hatch, the chicks stay together in small nursuries while the parents go out to the sea for hunting. When the parents return, they may feed the chicks up to 2 kg of oil. The young reach adult size by December and leave the colony by January. The partners mate until one of the partners dies.


Waved Albatross are spectacular flyers perhaps even the most famous. They can fly for hours without stalling and they do this by dynamic soaring. The wind speed near the surface of the sea is much slower than about 50 feet in the air. The waved albatross uses this to its advantage by gliding at speed into the wind. As the Waved Albatross glides higher it loses most of its ground speed because it is gliding into a wind of a higher speed. However, though they lose their ground speed because they are gliding into a wind of a higher speed their air speed does not fall, enabling them to glide continuously. Waved Albatrosses do however have difficulty taking off and landing due to their huge wings and slender bodies. To make it easier they take off on cliffs that are more inland and not next to the coast. The problem is when they come into land they have a high stalling speed, when they take off its hard to beat their massive wings.



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