The Albatross bird is the largest bird in the Galapagos Islands and nest only on Espanola (Hood) Island. They live there from late March through early January.
The Waved albatross (Phoebastria irrorata) also known as the Galapagos albatross, is the only member of the Diomedeidae family located in the tropics. This population of birds are protected by the Galapagos National Park.
The word 'albatross' is derived from the Spanish or Portuguese word 'Alcatraz', which means 'pelican', or 'strange bird'. The word is of Arabic origin, 'al-gattas', which means the diver.
Albatross birds are part of the biological family of Diomedeidae, order Procellariiformes which means "the tubenoses".
These birds are distinctive for their yellowish, cream-colored neck and head, which contrasts with their dark brown bodies. Even more distinctive is their long, bright yellow bill, which looks disproportionately large in comparison to the relatively small head and long, slender neck. Its feet are bluish. Juveniles differ slightly from adults by having a whiter head and a duller bill.
The Galapagos Albatross can grow to measure 34 inches in length. They use their formidable wingspans to ride the ocean winds and sometimes glide on wind currents for hours without flapping their wings.
They also float on the ocean's surface, though this makes them vulnerable to aquatic predators. Albatross birds drink salt water, as do some other sea birds.
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. The albatross has also been seen stealing food from other birds such as the Galapagos Boobies, a feeding strategy that is called kleptoparasitism.
The albatross' sole purpose of going to Hood Island is to reproduce, so the offspring must hatch and be ready to leave before the arrival of the warm waters, when food sources diminish.
The warm waters also bring the first rains, and the albatross's inland habitat will become difficult for them to thrive in, since the grasses that dominate the vegetation give way to a thick and lush jungle.
This can present a problem to the albatross bird; in its case, it needs to walk from the interior of the island toward the cliffs before taking flight. Too much undergrowth makes it a challenge to walk across land for this large bird.
Albatross birds are extremely loyal mates. When a male finds a female, their partnership usually lasts until one of them dies. Their courtship is a complex one that is unique to each pair.
This routine is a precise sequence of moves, which includes rapidly circling and bowing their bills, clacking their beaks together and raising their bills skyward whilst letting out a 'whoo-ooo' call.
A pair of Galapagos albatross will lay one egg in a depression on bare ground between April and June, where it is incubated for almost two months.
The newly hatched chicks have blackish-brown down, and after two weeks they are left in nursery groups while the parents go fishing and return to feed them pre-digested fish.
Around January of each year when the chick have fledged, they leave their nurseries and fly with their parents to the West Pacific.
The offspring are known as sub-adults, which are adult birds with no previous mating experience. From October through December one can observe an incredible array of flying lessons and wing exercises as the hatchlings learn to fly on the tricky air currents of the island.
The young birds will lose their downy feathers as the new adult feathers come in. This is a crucial time for them, as the albatross must be ready to leave the island, since their food supply begins to dwindle rapidly.
Because of their large size, the young adults have only one chance to take off. Once they jump off the cliffs near Punta Suarez, they will start their long journey and only return to the Galapagos when the nutrient-rich waters return here.
The parents do return each year to Espanola Island to mate, but the young stay away for five to six years feeding and scavenging until they are ready to begin breeding for the first time.
After this time, they will return to the Galapagos Islands to find a mate and breed.
The albatross migration route follows the cool waters back to lower southern latitudes.
One can see the albatross bird on the Galapagos from April to December, but it is during the dry season (June to November) that the birds are in their reproductive season.
In April the courting season begins, with the search for mates including males battling each other with their sharp beaks and plaintive cries unique to each individual.
In May the eggs are laid, and in June the first hatchlings appear.
September and October are fascinating months to watch the young albatrosses take wing and learn to fly before their departure at the end of December.
The precise location to observe this species in all its glory is Punta Suarez at Hood Island.
Watching these magnificent giants on Hood Island is certainly a highlight for anyone. These birds are a wonderful example of synchronization in Nature, where the timing of climate and food supply plays a crucial role in a species' survival.
A Guide to the Birds of the Galapagos Islands offers unprecedented comprehensive coverage. This field guide presents every species to have been recorded within the Archipelago, including accidentals and vagrants. A very informative book for those looking to know more about the birds in Galapagos.
Birds, Mammals, and Reptiles of the Galapagos Islands is the most comprehensive guide to the unique wildlife of the Galapagos, excellent and detailed descriptions of its extraordinary birds, mammals, and reptiles. Highly recommended.