Phoebastria immutabilisLaysan albatross

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Geographic Range

Laysan albatrosses breed on the Hawaiian islands, some of Japan’s Bonin Islands, Guadalupe Island, and other islands off the coast of western Mexico. These albatrosses mainly breed in the Hawaiian archipelago; more than half of the population breeds on Midway Island. Their name comes from the breeding colony on Laysan, in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands. When Laysan albatrosses are not breeding, they occur throughout the Pacific Ocean. Birds spend nearly half the year (July through November) at sea and don’t land until breeding season. Non-breeding albatrosses are found mostly near the Aleutians and the Bering Sea. Laysan albatrosses take off from breeding grounds in July and head northwest towards Japan, northeast in August, and then south again to breeding islands in November. Their range is limited by central Pacific winds because albatrosses depend on wind currents for sustained flight. ("Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis)", 2005; Whittow, 1993)

Habitat

When they land in the breeding season, Laysan albatrosses prefer to be in sandy, grassy areas on low atolls. They prefer to be next to sand dunes and shrubs such as Scaevola. The rest of the time, Laysan albatrosses are found at soaring above the sea and only land on the water to feed or sleep. Their distribution may be related to food abundance, such as squid. On land, they are not frequently found above 500 m, usually at sea level. ("Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis)", 2005; Whittow, 1993)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 500 m
    0.00 to 1640.42 ft

Physical Description

Laysan albatrosses have blackish-brown backs and upper wings. The primary feathers have a flash of white. The under wing is also white, with black margins. There is a dark tail band that is visible during flight. Similar species are black-footed albatrosses (Phoebastria nigripes). They are distinguished because black-footed albatrosses are dark all over, including the under wings. The other similar North American albatross species, short-tailed albatrosses (Phoebastria albatrus), have a yellow wash on the head and neck. (National Geographic Society, 2002; Whittow, 1993)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    1.9 to 3.1 kg
    4.19 to 6.83 lb
  • Average mass
    2.4 kg
    5.29 lb
  • Range length
    79 to 81 cm
    31.10 to 31.89 in
  • Range wingspan
    195 to 203 cm
    76.77 to 79.92 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    0.53 cm3.O2/g/hr
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    7.462 W
    AnAge

Reproduction

Laysan albatrosses are monogamous and known for their elaborate courtship displays. This courtship display is complicated and consists of 25 different postures, from clicking beaks together to tucking them under wings, to pointing them at the sky simultaneously. Only first time breeders and non-breeding birds perform this dance. Laysan albatrosses mate for life. Males and females start breeding around 8 to 9 years of age. Pair bonds are formed over several years – albatrosses may form the pair bond in their third year but not start breeding until they are 8 or 9. Laysan albatrosses do not change mates unless one dies, but changing mates decreases breeding frequency. ("Laysan Albatross - Diomedea immutabilis", 2007; Whittow, 1993)

Laysan albatrosses breed once a year and lay one egg each time they breed. If the egg is lost, it is not replaced. The incubation period lasts for about 65 days, both parents take turns incubating the egg. The nestling fledges around 165 days after hatching and leaves the nest at about the same time because the parents stop feeding it. The nestling probably leaves out of hunger and must learn how to swim, fly, and feed out of necessity. Males and females copulate about 24 hours after arriving at the breeding colony. Within a couple of hours after copulation, both birds depart for sea and return after about 8 days. Upon her return, the female builds the nest for a day or so and then lays her egg. Nest construction continues during incubation, mostly by the female but the male contributes as well. Laysan albatrosses are colonial nesters. Nests are a depression in the sand or soil with a rim made of twigs, leaves, or sand. (Whittow, 1993)

  • Breeding interval
    Laysan albatrosses breed once a year.
  • Breeding season
    Laysan albatrosses breed from November to July.
  • Average eggs per season
    1
  • Range time to hatching
    63.8 to 65.6 days
  • Average time to hatching
    64.4 days
  • Average fledging age
    165 days
  • Average time to independence
    165 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    8.9 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    8.4 years

Both sexes play an equal role in incubating the egg, maintaining the nest, and raising the young. The female on average incubates a few days less than the male does (29 vs. 36 days). Birds exchange incubation shifts, usually about 5 times, during the total period of incubation. Exchange occurs during the day, preceded by mutual preening. The relieved bird usually departs to find food within an hour. Both sexes develop an incubation patch that re-feathers after the egg is hatched. If the egg is displaced from the nest, the parent will not retrieve it. After the bird hatches, both parents play equal roles in feeding the chick regurgitated food, which usually consists of squid oil and flying fish eggs. The parent will only feed the chick at the nest site to ensure that it is feeding its own chick. The chick is brooded by the parent for the first few days and later guarded. Both parents take an equal role in guarding the chick. ("Laysan Albatross - Diomedea immutabilis", 2007; Whittow, 1993)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

Laysan albatrosses have a lifespan of 12to 51 years. Birds that start breeding early in life tend to die younger. Mortality rates are highest during the 3rd to 6th breeding years. The major cause of mortality in nestlings is dehydration. Many adult birds have been killed due to military and aircraft activities. ("Laysan Albatross - Diomedea immutabilis", 2007; Robbins, 2002; Whittow, 1993)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    12 to 51 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    10 to 19 years

Behavior

Laysan albatrosses are known for their dynamic soaring. Because of their long wingspan they have difficulty with take offs and landings. They need wind for flight. They take advantage of the different gradients of wind velocity over the water using “slope soaring”. They can ride one current of wind up to the next and dip down from a higher current to a lower one. In this way, they can control their velocity over the water and only flap their wings occasionally. They spend all of their time either in the air, on the ground, or on the water. When they land, albatrosses often “crash-land” by rolling head over heels. At night, albatrosses settle in the water to feed. With their mated pair, albatrosses engage in mutual preening. Laysan albatrosses are usually not violent towards their adult neighbors, only towards their nestlings. (Whittow, 1993)

  • Average territory size
    1.65 m^2

Home Range

When not breeding, Laysan albatrosses do not have a set home range or territory. Males and females return to the same breeding area year after year. (Whittow, 1993)

Communication and Perception

Laysan albatrosses have an elaborate courtship display that uses visual, tactile, and audio stimuli. During the courtship display, these albatrosses respond in unison to their potential mate, including a mutual bill-clicking display. When incubating eggs they make soft “eh-eh” sounds to the egg and to their partner. When males return to the breeding colony at the start of the season they make sky calls, in which males rise on their toes, point their bills at the sky and emit a long, single note. (Whittow, 1993)

Food Habits

Laysan albatrosses eat mainly squid but also eat fish, fish-eggs, and crustaceans. They eat small sunfish (Ranzania laevis), flying fish and their eggs (Exocoetidae), wind-sailers (Velella velella), and crustaceans such as Eurythenes gryllus. These seabirds feed mainly at night when squid are plentiful in surface waters. They are surface feeders; they feed by sitting on the water and scooping up prey from just under the surface. They can rip apart larger prey with their beaks. ("Laysan Albatross - Diomedea immutabilis", 2007; Whittow, 1993)

  • Animal Foods
  • fish
  • eggs
  • mollusks
  • aquatic crustaceans

Predation

Tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) prey on fledglings as they swim near breeding islands, eating about 1 in 10 fledglings. Tiger sharks can also attack adults. Polynesian rats (Rattus exulans) have also been reported to attack incubating adults and nestlings. Adults will protect their nests using their bills. In the main Hawaiian islands, introduced predators such as dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) have killed Laysan albatrosses and, on Oahu, mongooses (Herpestidae) may be a threat. ("Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis)", 2005; Whittow, 1993)

Ecosystem Roles

Laysan albatrosses, aside from preying on squid and fish and being preyed upon by tiger sharks and rats, are also hosts for occasional parasitic species. Ectoparasites can cause parasite dermatitis. A new species of chigger was found on a Laysan albatross nestling. (Whittow, 1993)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • chiggers (Apoloniinae)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Little is known about Laysan albatrosses and their economic importance for humans. Previously, Japanese feather hunters hunted albatrosses for their feathers. Currently, in the Hawaiian Islands, Laysan albatrosses are a tourist attraction and birders visit their breeding colonies. (Whittow, 1993)

  • Positive Impacts
  • body parts are source of valuable material
  • ecotourism

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

In the past, Laysan albatrosses have collided with aircrafts and occasionally with antennae towers. Because of these collisions, they may still face persecution on the main Hawaiian Islands. ("Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis)", 2005)

Conservation Status

Laysan albatrosses are listed as vulnerable to extinction in the IUCN Red List and protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act. Laysan albatrosses were hunted by the Japanese for their feathers. Laysan albatrosses were also killed by collisions with antennae towers and aircraft strikes and many were intentionally killed as well to reduce collisions. On the Hawaiian islands, eggs and birds are still removed from airfields to discourage nesting. On land, introduced predators and lead poisoning kill albatrosses as well. At sea, they are killed by oil pollution, floating plastics, nets, and fishhooks. Preventive measures adopted have been alternative long-line fishing techniques such as weighing lines down to scare away birds. Topsoil and grass has been imported to islands to stabilize sand dunes and increase available habitat. Protection in wildlife refuges on other Hawaiian islands help establish breeding colonies. (McDermond and Morgan, 1993; "Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis)", 2005)

Contributors

Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Tiffany Lin (author), Stanford University, Terry Root (editor, instructor), Stanford University.

Glossary

Pacific Ocean

body of water between the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), Australia, Asia, and the western hemisphere. This is the world's largest ocean, covering about 28% of the world's surface.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

colonial

used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
ecotourism

humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

molluscivore

eats mollusks, members of Phylum Mollusca

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

nomadic

generally wanders from place to place, usually within a well-defined range.

oceanic islands

islands that are not part of continental shelf areas, they are not, and have never been, connected to a continental land mass, most typically these are volcanic islands.

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

pelagic

An aquatic biome consisting of the open ocean, far from land, does not include sea bottom (benthic zone).

saltwater or marine

mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

visual

uses sight to communicate

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born

References

National Audubon Society, Inc. 2005. "Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis)" (On-line). National Audubon Society. Accessed May 29, 2007 at http://web1.audubon.org/waterbirds/species.php?speciesCode=layalb.

2007. "Laysan Albatross - Diomedea immutabilis" (On-line). NatureWorks. Accessed May 29, 2007 at http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/laysan.htm.

McDermond, D., K. Morgan. 1993. Status and conservation of North Pacific Albatross. The status, ecology, and conservation of marine birds of the N. Pacific, 1: 70-81.

National Geographic Society, 2002. National Geographic Field Guide to Birds of North America, 4th Edition. Des Moines, IA: National Geographic.

Robbins, C. 2002. "Patuxent Scientist Chan Robbins Reports Age Record for Laysan Albatross" (On-line). USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center HiLites. Accessed May 29, 2007 at http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/new/hilites/hilites040802.htm.

Whittow, G. 1993. "Laysan Albatross (Diomedea immutabilis)" (On-line). The Birds of North America Online. Accessed May 29, 2007 at http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/BNA/account/Laysan_Albatross/DISTRIBUTION.html.