Skip to main content

Black-footed Albatross Life History



Black-footed Albatrosses breed on islands in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands archipelago (especially on Midway Island), westward to several small islands south of Japan. They nest on open, sandy areas above the high-tide line, usually in sites with little vegetation. During the breeding season, adults forage over pelagic (deep offshore) waters typically about 250 miles (up to 1,250 miles) from the nest. Satellite tracking has revealed that they forage over seamounts, continental slopes, and areas where different seawater masses or currents interact. In such areas, the upwelling of nutrients nourishes plankton and thus the entire marine food web. Some of the Black-footed Albatrosses observed in spring off the West Coast of North America are making regular trips back to feed chicks in the Hawaiian Islands. During the nonbreeding season, Black-footed Albatrosses wander widely across a vast area, from Alaskan to Mexican waters.

Back to top



Black-footed Albatrosses seize prey items near the surface of the ocean, primarily as they swim, often ducking their heads underwater to reach prey. They eat a variety of squid (especially neon flying squid and Pacific pomfret), fish, fish eggs (especially flying fish eggs), and pelagic crustaceans such as deep-sea isopods. They forage mostly during daylight hours but sometimes at night. On occasion, albatrosses scavenge at the carcasses of marine mammals. Unfortunately, they also consume plastic they find floating at the sea surface, often because it has flying-fish eggs attached to it, or because the plastic looks and smells like prey.

Back to top


Nest Placement

GroundNests are set above the high-tide line on areas of open sand on oceanic islands or atolls, sometimes amongst scattered vegetation.

Nest Description

Males and females make the nest by scooping shallow depressions in the sand with their feet.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:1 egg
Egg Description:White, with brown speckling at the larger end.
Condition at Hatching:Downy and helpless, eyes open.
Back to top



Black-footed Albatrosses live for a long time and mate for life. Like other albatrosses, they are famous for their elaborate courtship; a series of synchronized, stylized postures accompanied by mutual calling and bill clacking. Often called “dances,” these courtship displays begin with their first encounter with each other and continue for decades. Courtship displays help to maintain their close bond and include mutual preening, bowing, billing (touching bills together), swinging the head back and forth, and raising the head skyward (“sky-pointing”) while raising the feet. During their moves, the birds moo, whine, bray, and make clattering sounds with the bill. Both parents share incubation and chick-rearing duties, and their foraging trips when nesting can involve more than a week of travel away from the nest.

Back to top


Restricted Range

Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 130,000 Black-footed Albatrosses and rates the species a 15 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, placing it on the Yellow Watch List for species with restricted ranges. Black-footed Albatrosses face many obstacles to population recovery. They are imperiled by longline, drift net, and gillnet fisheries. In addition, marine pollutants, such as oil spills, foul their feathers and prey alike; and heavy metal and organochlorine toxins concentrate in their bodies over their long lives, leading to behavioral and reproductive defects. Like other seabird species, Black-footed Albatrosses often eat floating plastic, which can contain toxins and accumulate in their gut. Sea-level rise, due to climate change, threatens to inundate their nesting islands.

Back to top


Awkerman, Jill A., David J. Anderson and G. Causey Whittow. (2008). Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Kushlan, J. A., M. J. Steinkamp, K. C. Parsons, J. Capp, M. A. Cruz, M. Coulter, I. Davidson, L. Dickson, N. Edelson, R. Elliott, R. M. Erwin, S. Hatch, S. Kress, R. Milko, S. Miller, K. Mills, R. Paul, R. Phillips, J. E. Saliva, W. Sydeman, J. Trapp, J. Wheeler and K. Wohl (2002). Waterbird conservation for the Americas: The North American waterbird conservation plan, version 1. Washington, DC, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2021.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2021.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Back to top

Learn more at Birds of the World