Phoebastria nigripesblack-footed albatross

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Geographic Range

The Black-Footed Albatross is a pelagic species which is found all over the North Pacific.

(Palmer, 1962; Reilly, 1968)

Habitat

The Black-Footed Albatross prefers vast open water and sandy beaches on islands for breeding.

(Palmer, 1962; Reilly, 1968)

Physical Description

The Black-Footed Albatross is all dark grey except for some white feathers near the bill and on the underside of the tail. There is no seasonal variation in their plumage.

Average length is 27-29 inches with a wingspan of about 7 feet. Males and females are relatively monomorphic, except that the male's beak averages slightly larger. Average body weight is 7-8 pounds. (Palmer, 1962;

Reilly, 1968)

Reproduction

The Black-Footed Albatross selects a mate early in life and remains with that mate until death. (Palmer, 1962).

Black-Footed Albatrosses are colonial nesters which begin copulating before arriving on their breeding grounds in October through early November. The male arrives about 20 days prior to the female to begin the nest building process and to reclaim their territory from the previous year. Once the female arrives, the pair engages in additional copulation and reinforces the pair-bond by performing the mutual display in which two birds approach and perform a rapid dance. The nest is usually on exposed, sandy beaches with many other pelagic bird species. Nest building is usually contributed to by both male and female and takes only a few hours. This nest is reused in future years. (Palmer, 1962)

When a Black-Footed Albatross hatches, the eyes are open and the nestling is covered with down, which takes about 6 hours to dry. At 2-3 months, the chick may begin to wander away from its parents' territory, but must return to the nest for feedings. The chick permanently leaves the nest at 6 months.

It is thought that Black-Footed Albatrosses do not reproduce until 9 years of age, although a mate may be selected earlier. Once a mate has been chosen, the pair remains together for life. (Palmer, 1962)

  • Breeding season
    October through May
  • Range eggs per season
    1 to 1
  • Range time to hatching
    63 to 67 days
  • Range fledging age
    5 to 6 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    8 to 10 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    8 to 10 years

The pair typically produces one egg, which the male and female incubate in turn. Once the egg has been laid, aggressive behavior between neighboring pairs increases. If the egg is lost to predation or other natural disaster, no replacement clutch is laid. The pair will wait until the next year to renest. Sometimes, wind storms bury the nest with egg or chick in sand, and the pair is forced to abandon their breeding efforts for that year.

Once the chick hatches, the parents remain at the nest at all times for 15-24 days in rotating shifts. The parent that is not on duty at the nest is responsible for gathering food. (Palmer, 1962; Reilly, 1968)

Lifespan/Longevity

The mean life-span of the Black-Footed Albatross is thought to be about 36 years.(Palmer, 1962)

Behavior

The Black-Footed Albatross is notorious for being sociable and curious. Even young nestlings tend to wander off and pick up many small objects to play with. As adults, it is thought that they have a territory at sea, possibly of a radius of up to 30 miles, for they will only follow ships for about 4-6 hours.

The Black-Footed Albatross forages alone at night and is most active in the early morning hours. During the day, they gather in groups on the surface of the water. On land, the Black-Footed Albatross is more shy and nervous, and is bound to attack humans if harrassed. (Palmer, 1962).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Black-Footed Albatrosses eat edible refuse of all kinds, and are sometimes called the "feathered pig." Although fond of fatty materials, this species' diet is mainly composed of fish, fish offal, fish eggs, crabs, other crustaceans, squids and galley garbage. (Palmer, 1962; Reilly, 1968)

Predation

Strangely, the Black-Footed Albatross is attracted to floating objects, including the exposed dorsal fin of sharks. However, they will avoid a swimming human. Furthermore, Black-Footed Albatrosses will not approach ships in Asiatic or Aleutian waters where birds have been treated with cruelty in the past. A main predator of albatross chicks is the Norwegian rat, which eats the eggs and small chicks. Once the chick begins to fly, its main predator is the tiger shark. (Palmer, 1962)

Ecosystem Roles

The Black-Footed Albatross is one of the waste managers of the ocean. They will eat any edible floating debirs, including garbage and animal matter. (Palmer, 1962; Reilly, 1968)

Conservation Status

In 1996, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council and the US Fish and Wildlife Service held a workshop for fishermen. The workshop taught techniques and told of inexpensive equipment to use to limit the catch of albatrosses. According to the USFWS, 2,000 Black-Footed Albatrosses are killed each year by fishermen's lines. Considering the fact that albatrosses reach sexual maturity at such a late age, this loss can have a substantial impact on the species. (Tummons, 1996)

Contributors

Mendy Tarwater (author), University of Arizona, Jay Taylor (editor), University of Arizona.

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

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

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.

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.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body

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).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males

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

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).

piscivore

an animal that mainly eats fish

saltwater or marine

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

scavenger

an animal that mainly eats dead animals

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

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

solitary

lives alone

tactile

uses touch to communicate

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

Palmer, R. 1962. Handbook of North American Birds. New York and London: Yale University Press.

Reilly, Jr., E. 1968. The Audubon Illustrated Handbook of American Birds. New York: McGraw Hill.

Tummons, P. October, 1996. Workshop on Albatross hookings explains avoidance techniques. Environment Hawai'i, Volume VII #4.