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What is a Laysan Albatross?

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  • Written By: Angie Bates
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 04 December 2016
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The Laysan albatross is a web-footed, gull-like seabird that spends most of its time in the open ocean, ranging from the Northern Pacific to the Gulf of Alaska. When on land, this bird is usually found on the Hawaiian islands. The scientific name for the Laysan albatross is phoebastria immatabilis.

Considered a small albatross, the Laysan is generally about 32 inches long (81 cm), weights around 7 pounds (3.2 kg), and has a wingspan of about 6 feet (1.8 m). Both males and females are mostly white with the exception of their black, narrow, pointed wings. Usually gray or yellow-orange, the Laysan's beak is always tipped with a black hook. These birds often live for 40 to 60 years.

The Laysan albatross spends months at sea, usually over 30 miles (48 km) from land, only coming to land to mate. A soaring bird, the Laysan may spend hours or days in the air without flapping its wings. It is even capable of sleeping while airborne.

A surface feeder, the Laysan albatross dives a short way to the water's surface and grabs its prey. Eating squid, crustaceans, and fish, as well as fish eggs, these birds generally feed at night and eat on the water. Sometimes they will feed on discarded fish waste left by commercial fishing boats.

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From November to July, Laysan albatrosses can be found on land for their breeding season. Nesting in large colonies, these birds begin mating when they reach six or seven years of age and mate for life. Though graceful in the air, the albatross is sometimes called a gooney bird because of its tendency to crash when landing on solid ground.

Laysan albatross nests are simple hollows in the sand where the female will lay one egg. The female will incubate the egg initially, but the male actually does most of the incubating. The young hatch after about two months.

Both parents will feed the hatchling. While one parents watches the chick, the other will go out to sea, sometimes for days, to find food. Parents feed their young by regurgitation. The chick will stay in the nest for five months before it fledges. Young Laysan albatrosses stay at sea for the first three to five years of their lives.

Laysan albatrosses are not considered endangered and their populations are relatively stable. They are, however, considered near threatened. Through the 1800s-1900s, Laysan albatrosses were often killed for their feathers, and though that practice has stopped, fishing nets, pollution, and airplanes are still frequent causes for deaths among these birds. Population trends suggest that their population may be on a slow decline.

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