Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes)

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Pair of Black-footed Albatross on Lehua Islet (Photo by Andre F. Raine)

The Black-footed Albatross is one of three albatross species that occur regularly in the north Pacific. It breeds primarily on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and the Bonin Islands off Japan, with a small populations breeding on Lehua Islet and Ka'ula Island off the Island of Ni'ihau. The species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Endangered, with the global population estimated at 200,000 individuals in 1990. Populations are susceptible to incidental take in the longline fishery, consumption of plastics, and an active volcano at the breeding colony on Torishima Island off the coast of Japan.

In Hawaii, the species is easily seen at sea anywhere around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands during the breeding season, which generally lasts from November to May. During this time they are also regularly seen at sea or from shore from the islands of Kaua'i and O'ahu, but there are few to no records from shore from Maui Nui or the Big Island. In all cases, they are far outnumbered by Laysan Albatross in Hawaiian waters. KESRP has assisted with monitoring the population of Black-footed Albatrosses on Lehua Islet, where we found a total of 32 breeding individuals in late 2011.

The Black-footed Albatross is one of two all-dark albatrosses that occur in Hawaii. Juvenile Short-tailed Albatross is also completely dark, but sports a bubble-gum pink bill, is considerably larger, and is extremely rare in Hawaii, with only a few birds breeding in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Therefore, any all-dark albatross in the Southeastern Hawaiian Islands is almost certainly a Black-footed Albatross. However, the more ubiquitious Laysan Albatross is far easier to see in Hawaii, particularly on Kaua'i.

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Black-footed Albatrosses off the coast of California (Photo by Matthew L. Brady)