The Galapagos Waved Albatross is the largest and most graceful of all Galapagos birds, and a favorite for many visitors. Breeding at only place on the planet, the Galapagos albatross spends nine months each year on Española island. Be sure to travel during these months to see them – the Waved albatross is a Galapagos highlight that you won’t want to miss!
Scientific Name:Phoebastria Irrorata
Conservation Status: Critically Endangered
Endemic Status: Breeding Endemic Galapagos Species
The instructions to see a Waved Albatross at the Galapagos Islands are very simple: Take a cruise that visits Punta Suarez on Española Island between April and December. There you will find a large waved albatross colony performing courtship dances and nesting.
The only breeding waved albatross colony on the planet is found at Punta Suarez on Española Island. This is a regular stop on the Galapagos cruise circuit, as well as an occasional day trip destination from San Cristobal. Punta Suarez is one of the best Galapagos visitor sites for bird watchers, with large seabird colonies of Blue footed boobies, Nazca boobies, and of course Galapagos Albatross. This spot makes an ideal home for the waved albatross colony, where they find flat terrain for nesting, clifftop protection, and strong winds for easier takeoffs.
After disembarking at Punta Suarez, a rocky path leads excited visitors right into the heart of the albatross colony, for an unbeatable close-up encounter. Observation of albatross nesting behavior is fascinating, with adults caring for their cute hatchlings, and endearingly tender interactions between family members.
You can also witness waved albatrosses flying high in the air currents around Punta Suarez, and sometimess at other parts of the Galapagos Marine Reserve too.
Albatrosses can be found at the Galapagos Islands from April through to December, when they come here to nest and breed. The timing is important for an albatross family – Galapagos seas are colder from the month of May, and rich in nutrients, ensuring that their new born hatchlings will be well-fed.
Once albatross hatchlings become fledglings, they must leave the islands by mid-january or sooner, while the winds are still strong enough for their take-off. Where do Galapagos albatrosses go between December/January and March? They head out to feed in open ocean, usually to the eastern waters of Galapagos, and the coasts of Ecuador, Colombia and Peru.
Like clockwork, adults return again to Española island the following April to repeat their breeding cycle. Meanwhile young albatrosses remain in the ocean for several years until they themselves are ready to find a mate.
They are easy to distinguish from other birds due to their large size. An adult waved albatross can grow to over 90cm in length, and weigh 3-4kg, which is very large for a seabird. Albatross wingspan is also impressive, clocking in at an average of 2.2 meters.
In terms of appearance, the Galapagos albatross is a very attractive and elegant bird. Both albatross sexes have a white head with cream coloured crown and neck, chestnut brown bodies with waved patterns (hence their name), and yellow beak.
One of the big attractions of the Galapagos Albatross is their human-like courting behavior. Courtship may last up to two years, which makes good sense when preparing to spend nearly three decades together. The tenderness between albatross couples is also heartwarming, as they touch beaks as humans would hold hands.
The mating ritual of the Waved Albatross dance is not to be missed. Couples perform an elaborate dance together, complete with circling and clacking of bills, head nodding, and waddling. A single egg is laid between April and June and incubated for two months. Then follows a nursery period when proud albatross parents forage for food for their chicks. Young must be fattened up and ready to leave the Galapagos Islands in December. Around mid-January the Galapagos winds start to die down, so any albatross that is still on Española will be left stranded, unable to take off.
Few birds in the world are as majestic in the air as an albatross! Making good use of their mighty wingspan, they are highly skilled flyers, gliding effortlessly on air currents. They spend long periods of their lives above the open ocean foraging for food, and only head to land for mating.
Waved Albatrosses feed on fish and squid, hunting at night when their prey is close to the surface of the ocean. They may also scavenge from nearby fishing boats, or even steal food from other Galapagos bird species like boobies. During mating season, adults take it in turns to hunt, returning to the nest to regurgitate food to their young. Hatchlings can fly and hunt for themselves after 5 and 1/2 months or so of adult care.
Galapagos waved albatrosses are on the critically endangered list, with only 12,000 breeding pairs in the world today. Why is the waved albatross endangered? In truth, they are not helped by their own over reliance on a single nesting place. This puts them at potential risk to changes in climate or habitat, such as the el niño phenomenon. Invasive species also cause problems – goats have been eradicated from Española, for example, to remove the risk of trampled albatross nesting sites.
Other conservation threats for Galapagos albatross come from long-line fishing practices. Albtrosses are attracted to long-line baited hooks, and drown after becoming trapped. Fortunately, long-lining is banned within the Galapagos Marine Reserve, but albatrosses are at risk as soon as they leave these safe waters.
Plastic waste is another big issue facing many Galapagos species, including albatross. Plastics in the sea are easily confused for squid, and cause serious problems or death once ingested. Happy Gringo proudly support the Plastic Free Galapagos campaign, which we urge you to learn more about. We donate a reusable water bottle (with beautiful wildlife design) to our Galapagos land tour passengers. This prevents the need to buy plastic water bottles each day of your trip.
• Waved Albatrosses are monogamous – selecting their partner, and then mating for life. They will stay with one partner until one or the other dies.
• While graceful in the air, the Galapagos Albatross is rather clumsy on land. Tourists are often amazed by their bungling, hair-raising take-offs & heavy-handed crash landings.
• When young Galapagos albatross wave goodbye to the islands for the first time, they usually won’t return to Galapagos for several years (up to 6). They spend their early, formative years out to sea. Only after reaching breeding age do they return to Española island.
• Studies show that an adult albatross could circle the globe in just 46 days, that’s almost 5 weeks faster than Phileus Fogg!
If you enjoyed reading our Galapagos Waved albatross facts, then check out more fascinating information about Galapagos Bird Species.
The Galapagos Albatross is without doubt one of the most majestic creatures at the archipelago. Whether flying gracefully across blue Galapagos skies, or courting one another tenderly on land, they never fail to impress. Even when clumsily crash landing, they somehow recover their dignity, forever endearing themselves to Galapagos tourists. The Waved Albaltross is a must-see species for your Galapagos vacation!