The Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) is a small species of albatross (although that certainly doesn't mean that it is a small bird). Although its body measures little more than two feet long, its wingspan stretches to an impressive six feet, tip-to-tip. The Laysan albatross is named after the location of one of its breeding colonies: Laysan Island in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Despite the fact that the Laysan albatross was named after Laysan Island, nearly three-quarters of the population nest on Midway Island.
In contrast to many albatross species, the Laysan albatross is not currently classified as endangered. In the past, the IUCN earmarked the species as vulnerable, but in 2010 the conservation organization downlisted Laysan albatrosses to "near threatened" due to a recent increase in the bird's numbers.
The Laysan albatross is among the most common seabirds of the Hawaiian Islands. Its population is estimated in the range of 1.1 million birds and conservationists believe that the bird's numbers are increasing. But the species still faces the serious threats that plague all albatrosses such as longline fishing, egg predation by invasive species and hazards posed by plastics and other pollution. Additionally, lead poisoning kills thousands of Laysan albatrosses each year—the nesting colony on Midway Atoll is located close to a collection of abandonned US Navy buildings and the birds have a habit of ingesting chips of lead-based paint from those buildings. This leads to high levels of lead in the birds' bloodstream and often causes death.
Laysan albatrosses have a white head, neck, throat and body. They have a light grey patch located beneath each eye and a black eye patch. Their bill is long, hooked and is yellow-orange with a black tip. Their wings are black, as is their tail. Their legs light pink. Laysan albatrosses are often described as "gull-like" in their appearance due to their general color pattern (black wings and white body) and relatively small size (when compared to other albatrosses).
Laysan albatrosses, like all albatrosses are monogomous and form life-long pair bonds (though if one mate dies, the surviving mate will often form a new pair bond). During the breeding season, they form large nesting colonies on oceanic islands such as the Hawaiian Islands (including Midway and Laysan), French Frigate Shoals, Bonin Islands (off the coast of Japan) and Guadalupe Island (off the coast of Mexico).
The nests Laysan albatrosses build depends on their nesting habitat. Nests can be as simple as a scraped depression in the sand or more elaborate constructions made from vegetation.
Laysan albatrosses begin laying eggs in mid-november. Each pair lays and tends only one egg and the incubation period is just over two months (65 days). Both parent share in the incubation of the egg and tending of the chicks. Chicks are fed flying fish eggs and squid oil regurgitated by the parents. Chicks fledge after 5 or 6 months, usually during the period between mid-June and late July).
Laysan albatrosses usually breed once each year but sometimes a pair skips a breeding season.
Laysan albatrosses feed at night. Their diet consists of fish and invertebrates such as squid and crustaceans. They also feed on the eggs of flying fish.
Waved albatrosses belong to the genus Phoebastria, a group known as the North Pacific albatrosses. There are four living species of North Pacific albatrosses: the Laysan albatross, waved albatross, black-footed albatross and short-tailed albatross.