As described in this famous poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, sailors have long considered the albatross to be a good omen. Early ocean explorers believed that sighting a bird meant land was nearby. There undoubtedly were many disappointed, land-hungry sailors though, because the albatross is a pelagic, or open-ocean, species that may not set foot on land for many years at a time. Albatross have been described as “nomads of the oceans”.
There are two kinds of albatross in Hawaii: the ka`upu, or blackfooted albatross (Phoebastria nigripes-rare), and the moli, or Laysan albatross (P. immutabilis-endangered). These amazing birds can live up to fifty years, and have been recorded to fly as far as 2,000 miles in one day in search of food. One of the favorite foods of the albatross is the eggs of the malolo (flying fish) and squid.
No matter where you go in Hawaii, you stand a very good chance of seeing something that will leave you amazed, such as the sight of an albatross or frigate bird flying by, keep an eye to the sky!
Holy Moli – video of albatross on Midway
While not the largest of albatross, the Laysan wingspan is approximately 6.5ft and they may weigh as much as 5-9 pounds. Its range extends to most of the north Pacific Ocean. These albatross are white with a black tail and upper wings, dark patterns under the wings, with a black patch around the eye and pink bills, legs and feet.
They begin breeding and nesting in November, chicks usually start fledging in June and through July (very occasionally a late hatcher will leave in August).
We still have no idea how old an albatross can live. What we do know is that the oldest known living Laysan Albatross is at least 66 years old. Wisdom, who nests on Midway, was banded as a breeding adult in 1956 which would indicate she was at least 5 years old. For all we know she could be 67, 70, 80…who knows!…and of course there could be unbanded birds out there who are older.
They can stay out at sea for as long as five years before returning to the same island on which they were born. They have elaborate courtship dances, and once mated they tend to remain faithful to their mate. In adulthood they rendezvous each year with their partner at the same nest site. Nesting time is the only time they spend on land, and each year the pair stays just long enough to hatch and raise a single chick.
On land, albatross are very awkward and often have difficulty taking off and landing. This has gained them the nickname of “Goony Bird”. Although albatross are so awkward on land, they are graceful and impressive in flight. An albatross in flight can be so perfectly attuned to wind conditions that it may not flap its wings for hours, or even for days, as it can sleep while flying. It takes advantage of the air currents just above the ocean’s waves to soar in perpetual graceful motion.
Albatross are so beautiful in the air that superstitious sailors believed they were the reincarnated spirits of dead sailors who were searching the oceans for their lost friends. Albatross can be seen nesting at Ka’ena Point, or on our ocean wildlife tours during the winter months.
Oh, and the link Marine Birds on O’ahu, information from NOAA no longer seems valid.
Finally, the image you have of an albatross and a chick appears to be a black-browed albatross, which does not nest on Hawaiian islands.
Compare this image I found on the internet – this is the black-browed which looks just like your photo. Notice the distinctive line around the bill, and the very dark ‘slit’ eye.
Compare that with the attached photo of a Laysan Albatross and its chick. You’ll notice the different, softer shading around the eye, and the different color bill. In fact, if you wish to use this photo instead (rather than purchasing something from the internet), you are welcome to credit me with the photo, since I took this of our own pair of Laysan Albatross that nest in our front yard every year! 😉