Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes)

Black-footed Albatross

[order] PROCELLARIIFORMES | [family] Diomedeidae | [latin] Phoebastria nigripes | [authority] Audubon, 1849 | [UK] Black-footed Albatross | [FR] Albatros a pieds noirs | [DE] Schwarzfuss-Albatros | [ES] Albatros Patinegro | [NL] Zwartvoetalbatros


Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Phoebastria nigripes PO n, c


Albatrosses are the ‘largest’ birds in terms of wingspan. Royal Abatrosses, for instance, may reach a wing span of almost 3.5m, which make them look like feathered sail plaines. They are also the largest members of the tubenose family. Only the smallest albatross species are equalled in size by the Giant Petrels (Macronectes). Albatrosses occur in all oceans, except the northern part of the Atlantic. In ancient times they were also present in that part of the world, but nowadays only an occasional straggler find its way to the North Atlantic. Most of the 24 species are Southern Hemisphere breeders, only three actually breed north of the Equator in the Pacific Ocean.
Albatross taxonomy is subject of discussion for a long time, and has been at times rather chaotic. Based on external characters: plumage patterns, tail shapes, bill structure (size, organization of the plates and coloration) albatrosses were, until recently, divided in 13-14 species in four ‘natural groups’: the Great Albatrosses, the Mollymawks, the North Pacific Albatrosses, grouped in the genus Diomedea and the Sooty Albatrosses Phoebastria. More recently DNA-analyses supports the division in four distinct groups but the were elevated to a generic status and has led to a splitting into 24 species: Great Albatrosses Diomedea (7 species), the Northern (Pacific) Albatrosses Phoebastria (4 species), the southern Mollymawks Thalassarche (11 species) and the Sooty Albatrosses Phoebetria (2 species). Recently this taxonomy is challenged by who proposed to lump some of the ‘species’ again based on their molecular analysis. Since then the discussion flared up and has not ended yet. Some list six species of Great Albatrosses, including two subspecies of Antipodian Albatross.

Physical charateristics

The great size, sooty color, tremendously long, saberlike wings, and rigid,
shearwater-like gliding identify this species, the albatross found most regularly off our Pacific Coast. Seldom seen from shore. At close range this albatross shows a whitish face and pale areas toward the tips of wings. Bill and feet dark
. Some birds, presumably adults, show white patches at the base of the tail.

Listen to the sound of Black-footed Albatross

[audio: Albatross.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 200 cm wingspan max.: 215 cm
size min.: 74 cm size max.: 81 cm
incubation min.: 63 days incubation max.: 67 days
fledging min.: 150 days fledging max.: 180 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 1  


Pacific Ocean : North, Central. Phoebastria nigripes breeds on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (USA), the US Minor Outlying Islands and three outlying islands of Japan, colonies having been lost from other Pacific islands.


Open ocean. In foraging at sea, tends to be most common over upwellings where currents bring food to surface, or over continental shelf, but rarely comes close to shore. Nests on sandy beaches and other open fla
t areas on islands in Pacific.


First breeds at age 5 years or older. Courtship “dance” of pairs is complex, includes many ritualized movements including bowing head, mutual preening, swinging head from side to side, pointing bill straight up while calling.
Nest: Preferred nest sites are on higher parts of open sandy beaches. Nest is a simple, shallow depression, with a slightly built-up rim.
Clutch 1. Creamy white, spotted with brown. Incubation (by both sexes) averages 65-66 days.
Young: For about 18-
20 days after hatching, one parent broods and guards the nestling while other forages for food, taking turns every 1 or 2 days. Young is fed by regurgitation, by both parents, until it leaves the nest. Period from hatching to departure from
island is about 140-150 days.

Feeding habits

Fish, squid, crustaceans. Around Hawaii, feeds heavily on the eggs of flyingfish. Also eats many squid, adult fish including flyingfish, and crustaceans. Will scavenge carrion or refuse at sea.
Forages while swimming by seizing items at surface, upending to reach underwater, or diving short distances underwater with wings partly spread. Feeds mostly early morning and evening. Like many seabirds (and unlike most other birds), has a well-develope
d sense of smell, which probably aids in finding food.

Video Black-footed Albatross


copyright: Curt Kessler


This species is listed as Endangered on the basis of a projected future rapid population decline over the next three generations (56 years), taking account of estimated rates of incidental mortality in longline fisheries in the north Pacific Ocean. However, an onging review of the species’s population status may lead to a review of its categorisation.
Breeds on islands in central and western Pacific (chiefly northwestern Hawaiian chain). Migration: Some are found throughout North Pacific at all seasons, but adults concentrate near nesting islands (Hawaii and o
ff Japan) November to June; most restricted in February when feeding young nestlings. Most numerous off North American coast June through August.
Black-footed Albatross status Endangered


Disperses widely over N Pacific after breeding, regularly reaching Bering Sea; fairly large numbers off Pacific coast of N America. Also recorded in S Hemisphere, off Galapagos Is and New Zealand.

Distribution map

Black-footed Albatross distribution range map

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