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The Laysan Albatross is a white-headed bird with dark gray-brown upperwings and white underwings with variable dark markings. The underparts and rump are white, there is a dark patch around each eye, and the legs and feet are pink. With a length of just over two feet and wingspan of just over six feet it is one of the smaller members of the albatross family.
Distribution and Habitat
Most Laysan albatrosses breed on the northwestern Hawaiian Archipelago and off Baja California. Other populations are found in Canada, Japan, Mexico, and Norfolk Island in the Pacific Ocean. 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.
After reaching sexual maturity at six to eight years, the Laysan albatross switches from permanently living at sea and returns to land for nearly 10 months of the year (November through July) 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 incubates the egg for the first few days, then the male takes over for as many as three weeks; total incubation time is about two months. The chick is fed regurgitated food by both parents, both of which may leave for days at a time to hunt. Fledging occurs at about five months.
The Laysan albatross feeds primarily on squid, but will also take crustaceans, fish eggs, and fish. A surface feeder, it scoops up its prey from just under the surface of the water. It does most of its feeding at night.
Like all albatrosses, the Laysan can travel hundreds of miles per day with barely a wingbeat. It flies by dynamic soaring, gliding low over the waves and then wheeling up into the sky to take advantage of the wind.
In 1958, two American scientists sent nesting Laysan albatrosses by plane from Laysan Island in the Hawaiian archipelago to the Philippines, a distance of 4,120 airline miles, and reported that in 31 days one of the birds had made it back to Laysan. Part of the ocean over which the bird flew was outside the species' normal range. Two birds were also sent to Washington state, an airline distance of 3,200 miles, and they returned in 10 and 12 days.
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This page was last updated on August 22, 2017.