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The Waved Albatross of the Galapagos Islands

Dedicated Galapagos holidays introduce participants to the endemic avian life of the archipelago, including the graceful Waved Albatross.

The volcanic archipelago of the Galapagos Islands is home to a host of unique wildlife. For birdwatching enthusiasts, it's one of the most fascinating and fulfilling destinations on the planet, with 28 endemic species. One of those is the magnificent Waved Albatross.

For those travelling to the islands on organised Galapagos holidays, the opportunity to see this remarkable bird in its only natural breeding habitat is a once in a lifetime opportunity. 

A Graceful Flight

The Waved Albatross (Phoebastria irrorata), aka the Galapagos Albatross, has been described as "the most graceful bird in the world". Growing up to three feet in length and with a wingspan of up to eight feet, the vision of the bird in flight is indeed an impressive sight. On land, however, it is actually quite ungainly, with an awkward, almost waddling gait. That's perhaps not surprising, considering they spend extremely long periods of time at sea (up to years at a time) without ever touching land.

Physical Characteristics

This is the largest avian species of the archipelago and the birds can live up to 45 years and even beyond. While the bottom half of their body is brown, their long neck and head are a creamy-yellow and their most distinctive feature is their disproportionately long yellow bill.

Because of the size of their wingspan, the birds need the assistance of a good headwind to achieve a successful take-off and once aloft they primarily glide.

Courting, Mating and Hatching of Chicks

Like other albatrosses, they engage in an ornate and ritualised courtship dance, involving an intricate series of movements and noises. This lengthy, choreographed ritual is even more complex in new pairs, but once they find a partner they are extremely loyal and come together to mate every season until one or other dies.  

When the female lays her egg both parents take turns to incubate it for around two months. Both parents display the interesting behaviour of frequently rolling the egg around on the ground, often for quite a distance. This is thought to assist in some way with the hatching process, but this theory has not yet been proven conclusively.   

Once the chicks have hatched the parents take turns alternating between guarding the nest and gathering food. When the young birds do eventually leave the nest they do not usually return to the breeding island of Española until they themselves are ready to mate – which can be up to five or six years.

Home on Española

While outside breeding season they can be found along the coasts of Northern Peru and Ecuador, the entire global population of the Waved Albatross is found in two major colonies on Española Island (also known as Hood) in the archipelago. For those coming to the region on Galapagos holidays, this is the only place they can be seen nesting and performing their elaborate courtship dance.

Conservation Status

Numbers of the bird have, unfortunately, declined in recent years and it is now on the Critically Endangered list. Contributing factors to the decline in population are thought to be their limited range, disease and the effects of illegal and long-line fishing reducing their food source. In recent years, however, eco-tourism through organised Galapagos holidays has begun to raise awareness of the need to conserve this unique and beautiful bird.

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