3 Species of Albatross You Could See in Hawaii

When most people think of Hawaii, they often think of the island’s beautiful beaches and laid-back lifestyle. But did you know that Hawaii is home to a number of different sea birds, including albatross. Keep reading to learn about the different types of albatross in Hawaii that you could spot while visiting the islands.

3 Albatross In Hawaii

There are three different species of albatross in Hawaii, and these three species are the black-footed albatross, Laysan albatross, and short-tailed albatross. Each species has its own unique attributes that can help you determine which albatross you are looking at.

1. Black-Footed Albatross

Black-footed albatross on wave
Black-footed albatross on wave

Scientific Name: Phoebastria nigripes

The black-footed albatross is also known as Ka‘upu, and is found on the Lehua Islands and Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. These birds are entirely black, but do have a narrow white-like area at the base of its bill, as well as under its eyes. There are a small number of these albatrosses, about 10 percent, that have a white undertail covert or white rump.

They nest in large colonies, choosing hollowed areas on dunes or on sandy beaches. These albatrosses form pair bonds, but do not breed every year.

In fact, the black-footed albatross won’t breed until they reach at least 5 years old and they can live for well over 50 years. The oldest recorded albatross of this species was a male that lived to be at least 60 years and 11 months old before he passed, according to All About Birds.

The black-footed albatross spots its food while flying through the air. When they find something tasty to eat, they will carefully settle on the water surface and then wait for their prey to come by.

When it does, they will pluck their prey out of the water. You typically won’t see this species of water bird diving into the water after prey.

2. Laysan Albatross

Laysan Albatross in Flight
Laysan Albatross in Flight

Scientific Name: Phoebastria immutabilis

Also known as Mōlī, the Laysan albatross is a large seabird that has made Hawaii a central part of their breeding area. Their nests can be found O‘ahu, Kaua‘i, Ni‘ihau, and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

They nest in open flat areas on sand or coral islands. However, they can also nest on volcanic islands that have steep rocky locations. Most of these albatrosses nest in two of Hawaii’s National Wildlife Refuges.

Laysan albatrosses are mostly white with a black tail and black wings. Their bill is pink but has a tip that is hooked and gray, and their feet are light pink in color. These birds mainly feed during the night, and usually venture away from the breeding colony to feed.

It is not uncommon to see Laysan albatrosses feeding with other albatrosses, but they don’t typically feed with other species. Their main food source is squid, fish, and crustaceans, but they can also scavenge carrion and follow fishing boats looking for food.

Unlike some other seabirds, the Laysan albatross does not dive into the water to catch its prey. Instead, they skim the water surface with their beak to grab their prey.

The downside is that this can cause them to accidentally pick up plastic floating in the water, which they could potentially feed to their young. As I am sure you can guess, eating plastic is not healthy for the young birds and they could die.

You may also like:  Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus)

3. Short-Tailed Albatross

Short-tailed albatross
Short-tailed albatross | image by ericdalecreative via Flickr

Scientific Name: Phoebastria albatrus

Short-tailed albatrosses measure about 36 inches long and have an average wingspan of about 7 ½ feet. They are mostly white in color, but can have varying amounts of black, which typically occurs on the front side of their wings. They also have a large pink bill that is tipped in blue, and pale pink feet and legs.

Short-tailed albatrosses can be easy to distinguish thanks to their golden washed heads. This species is known to forage closer to the land than other albatrosses, but will also scavenge for food and follow fishing boats.

Their main food sources are shrimp, fish, and squid. Like other albatross species, the short-tailed type can live for at least 50 years or more.

Nests on islands that are windswept, isolated, and offshore with little to no human access. In fact, most albatrosses nest on islands near the country of Japan. However, they can also sometimes nest in the Hawaiian Archipelago, and this area is the only known nesting area in the United States.

The short-tailed albatross is not as wide spread throughout the Hawaiian Islands. You can find a small number of this species nesting on the Kure Atoll and Midway Atoll, which are in the Northwestern Islands of Hawaii.

The short-tailed albatross forages or hunts for food diurnally, but sometimes nocturnally. They forage and hunt in groups or alone, and will settle on the surface of the water, grasping any food that comes in with their beak.