Species Spotlight: Black-footed Albatross

Albatross have the longest wingspan of any bird, which they use to ride the ocean winds. They can glide above the watery surface for hours without as much as a flap of their wings. While the Laysan albatross boasts the most iconic look, the black-footed albatross is one you may have a better chance of spotting in the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

While they nest primarily on the Hawaiian Islands, black-footed albatross sail across the Pacific and fly along our California coasts for several months of the year.

Like other albatross species, and many birds, black-footed albatross mate for life. They have a long courting period that can last 2-3 years before they mate. Before mating, albatross engage in a ritual “dance” in which they coil their necks, flap their wings, shake their heads, and touch bills. It’s truly an impressive sight to see!

Black-footed Albatross flying | Photo: Abe Borker
Black-footed Albatross | Photo: Abe Borker

Perhaps most fascinating however is how these seabirds have adapted to meet the challenges of their unique existence. They have a strong sense of smell, which they use to locate food while flying across vast stretches of ocean. So that they can drink salt water as they travel, they have evolved a special gland above their eyes to get rid of the salt but retain the water. Black-footed albatross are also equipped with an internal air conditioner of sorts. With a network of blood vessels in their heads, they can cool their bodies amid hot temperatures while nesting.

On April 28, the Greater Farallones Education Team hosted the Albatross Art & Science Soirée to celebrate the amazing albatross! The event, held at the San Francisco Zoo, was complete with printmaking, music, dancing, and an incredible wandering albatross specimen mounted over a century ago (courtesy of the California Academy of Sciences). World-renowned albatross researcher Breck Tyler gave a fascinating presentation covering everything from the always-entertaining albatross mating dance to the anatomy that allows them to effortlessly soar above the waves for days and weeks.

Thank you to everyone who came to celebrate and if you missed this, we’d love to see you next time! Check back for upcoming events.

Enjoy photos from the 2018 Albatross Soirée: