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Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

Black-footed albatrosses, like most of their species, mate for life. Males are the first to arrive at the breeding grounds in October, and re-claim their nest site which they and their partner might have used for many years. Once the females arrive three weeks later, mating takes place and the birds perform a ritual, re-establishing the pair bond (2). Both birds work to rebuild the nest and take turns to incubate their single egg. If the egg is predated or lost to other natural causes, the birds will not attempt to breed again until the following year. Once the chick hatches, both parents brood it in turn, taking turns to procure food for the youngster. Albatross chicks stay in the nest for a long time; six months in the case of the black-footed, and it may wander away from the nest site when it reaches two or three months old (2). Black-footed albatross feed mainly on squid, fish and crustaceans, but they also take floating offal and carrion (4). The birds are mostly active at night and early in the morning. The spend most of the day sitting on the surface of the ocean in groups (2).
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Description

One of the smaller members of the family, the black-footed albatross is a uniform dusky brown with a white ring around the base of the bill. There is also white across the upperparts and under the tail. The bill, legs and feet are blackish in colour (4). Like all albatrosses, the wings are long and straight and the birds can glide almost effortlessly a few metres above the surface of the sea (4).
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Distribution

Range Description

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 (Whittow 1993, Cousins 1998). In total there are estimated to be 64,500 pairs breeding each year (Flint 2007, Naughton et al. 2007) in at least 14 locations. The largest populations are c.24,000 and 21,000 pairs on Midway Atoll and Laysan Island respectively, which together account for 73% of the global population (Flint 2007, Naughton et al. 2007). On Torishima, 914 chicks were reared from 1,219 pairs in 1998, compared with just 20 in 1964 (Cousins and Cooper 2000). The species disperses widely over the northern Pacific Ocean, particularly to the north-east, towards the coastal waters of North America. There have been occasional records in the southern hemisphere (Carboneras 1992b, Fernandez et al. 2001, Hyrenbach and Dotson 2001, BirdLife International 2004, Hyrenbach et al. 2006, S. Shaffer in litt. 2007).

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The Black-Footed Albatross is a pelagic species which is found all over the North Pacific.

(Palmer, 1962; Reilly, 1968)

Biogeographic Regions: pacific ocean (Native )

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occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Non-breeding

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Breeding

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Global Range: (200,000 to >2,500,000 square km (about 80,000 to >1,000,000 square miles)) BREEDS: northwestern Hawaiian Islands (Kure east to Kaula) and on Torishima in Seven Islands of Izu (AOU 1998). Began breeding on San Benedicto Island, off the Pacific coast of Mexico, in 2000 (1 pair); apparently also nesting on Guadalupe Island, Mexico (Pitman and Ballance 2002). Formerly on northern Bonin, Volcano, Marianas and Marshall islands and Marcus, Wake and Johnston islands. RANGES: North Pacific south to Baja California, to Aleutians, Bering Sea (AOU 1998).

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Range

W Hawaiian, Izu, Bonin and s Ryukyu islands.
  • Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

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Range

Black-footed albatrosses are birds of the northern Pacific Ocean, ranging from the sub-Artic sea southwards beyond the Hawaiian Islands, west as far as the China Sea and east to the North American coast, extending as far south as Baja California (4). This species once nested on many islands in the northern Pacific Ocean but today breeds only on the Hawaiian archipelago, including the Laysan Islands and Midway Island, and in the western Pacific on three Japanese islands (4).
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Physical Description

Morphology

The Black-Footed Albatross is all dark grey except for some white feathers near the bill and on the underside of the tail. There is no seasonal variation in their plumage.

Average length is 27-29 inches with a wingspan of about 7 feet. Males and females are relatively monomorphic, except that the male's beak averages slightly larger. Average body weight is 7-8 pounds. (Palmer, 1962;

Reilly, 1968)

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

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Size

Length: 81 cm

Weight: 3148 grams

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
It breeds on beaches and slopes with little or no vegetation, and on short turf. The species feeds mainly on flying fish eggs, squid, fish and crustaceans (Harrison et al. 1983), but also on fish offal and human refuse (Cousins 1998). During the brooding period, birds at Tern Island forage predominantly within the vicinity of the island. This foraging range expands during the rearing period to include the distant and more productive Californian Current (Hyrenbach et al. 2002).


Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Marine
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Depth range based on 9511 specimens in 1 taxon.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 7859 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 0 - 0
  Temperature range (°C): 2.344 - 27.473
  Nitrate (umol/L): 0.004 - 19.712
  Salinity (PPS): 30.381 - 35.354
  Oxygen (ml/l): 4.515 - 7.933
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.049 - 1.845
  Silicate (umol/l): 0.901 - 37.249

Graphical representation

Temperature range (°C): 2.344 - 27.473

Nitrate (umol/L): 0.004 - 19.712

Salinity (PPS): 30.381 - 35.354

Oxygen (ml/l): 4.515 - 7.933

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.049 - 1.845

Silicate (umol/l): 0.901 - 37.249
 
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breeding on Hawaii
  • UNESCO-IOC Register of Marine Organisms
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breeding on Hawaii
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The Black-Footed Albatross prefers vast open water and sandy beaches on islands for breeding.

(Palmer, 1962; Reilly, 1968)

Habitat Regions: saltwater or marine

Aquatic Biomes: pelagic

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Comments: Pelagic. Frequently follows ships. Nests in sand on oceanic islands. Usually nests in same spot in successive years.

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Depth range based on 9511 specimens in 1 taxon.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 7859 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 0 - 0
  Temperature range (°C): 2.344 - 27.473
  Nitrate (umol/L): 0.004 - 19.712
  Salinity (PPS): 30.381 - 35.354
  Oxygen (ml/l): 4.515 - 7.933
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.049 - 1.845
  Silicate (umol/l): 0.901 - 37.249

Graphical representation

Temperature range (°C): 2.344 - 27.473

Nitrate (umol/L): 0.004 - 19.712

Salinity (PPS): 30.381 - 35.354

Oxygen (ml/l): 4.515 - 7.933

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.049 - 1.845

Silicate (umol/l): 0.901 - 37.249
 
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When not at sea, these albatrosses choose bare slopes and coastlines with little vegetation, or with short turf on which to breed (4).
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Migration

Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

Seen year-round off the western U.S. coast. Northern-most populations move south during the winter. May migrate 1000s of km between breeding and nonbreeding areas. Usually leaves breeding areas in July, returns October-November (Terres 1980).

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Trophic Strategy

Black-Footed Albatrosses eat edible refuse of all kinds, and are sometimes called the "feathered pig." Although fond of fatty materials, this species' diet is mainly composed of fish, fish offal, fish eggs, crabs, other crustaceans, squids and galley garbage. (Palmer, 1962; Reilly, 1968)

Primary Diet: carnivore (Piscivore , Eats eggs, Scavenger )

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Comments: Fishes, sea urchins, amphipods, squids. Forages at night catching food from surface of ocean. Feeds on refuse thrown from ships. Young initially fed regurgitated stomach oil, later mainly squid (Berger 1981).

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Associations

The Black-Footed Albatross is one of the waste managers of the ocean. They will eat any edible floating debirs, including garbage and animal matter. (Palmer, 1962; Reilly, 1968)

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Strangely, the Black-Footed Albatross is attracted to floating objects, including the exposed dorsal fin of sharks. However, they will avoid a swimming human. Furthermore, Black-Footed Albatrosses will not approach ships in Asiatic or Aleutian waters where birds have been treated with cruelty in the past. A main predator of albatross chicks is the Norwegian rat, which eats the eggs and small chicks. Once the chick begins to fly, its main predator is the tiger shark. (Palmer, 1962)

Known Predators:

  • humans (Homo sapiens)
  • Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus)
  • tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier)

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Known predators

Phoebastria nigripes is prey of:
Galeocerdo cuvier
Homo sapiens
Rattus norvegicus

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: 6 - 20

Comments: Breeds on several northwestern Hawaiian Islands, on Torishima in Seven Islands of Izu (AOU 1998), and on San Benedicto and Guadalupe Islands, Mexico (Pitman and Ballance 2002). More than half of the breeding population nests at two sites: Laysan Island and Midway Atoll.

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Global Abundance

100,000 - 1,000,000 individuals

Comments: Estimated at 124,000 individuals (IUCN 2000). The two largest colonies are at Laysan Island and Midway Atoll, Hawaii; in 1998, about 21,415 pairs nested on Laysan Island, and 20,510 pairs nested on Midway Atoll (Robbins and Dowell 2000).

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Life Expectancy

The mean life-span of the Black-Footed Albatross is thought to be about 36 years.(Palmer, 1962)

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
488 months.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 40.7 years (wild)
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Reproduction

The Black-Footed Albatross selects a mate early in life and remains with that mate until death. (Palmer, 1962).

Mating System: monogamous

Black-Footed Albatrosses are colonial nesters which begin copulating before arriving on their breeding grounds in October through early November. The male arrives about 20 days prior to the female to begin the nest building process and to reclaim their territory from the previous year. Once the female arrives, the pair engages in additional copulation and reinforces the pair-bond by performing the mutual display in which two birds approach and perform a rapid dance. The nest is usually on exposed, sandy beaches with many other pelagic bird species. Nest building is usually contributed to by both male and female and takes only a few hours. This nest is reused in future years. (Palmer, 1962)

When a Black-Footed Albatross hatches, the eyes are open and the nestling is covered with down, which takes about 6 hours to dry. At 2-3 months, the chick may begin to wander away from its parents' territory, but must return to the nest for feedings. The chick permanently leaves the nest at 6 months.

It is thought that Black-Footed Albatrosses do not reproduce until 9 years of age, although a mate may be selected earlier. Once a mate has been chosen, the pair remains together for life. (Palmer, 1962)

Breeding season: October through May

Range eggs per season: 1 to 1.

Range time to hatching: 63 to 67 days.

Range fledging age: 5 to 6 months.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 8 to 10 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 8 to 10 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); oviparous

The pair typically produces one egg, which the male and female incubate in turn. Once the egg has been laid, aggressive behavior between neighboring pairs increases. If the egg is lost to predation or other natural disaster, no replacement clutch is laid. The pair will wait until the next year to renest. Sometimes, wind storms bury the nest with egg or chick in sand, and the pair is forced to abandon their breeding efforts for that year.

Once the chick hatches, the parents remain at the nest at all times for 15-24 days in rotating shifts. The parent that is not on duty at the nest is responsible for gathering food. (Palmer, 1962; Reilly, 1968)

Parental Investment: altricial ; male parental care ; female parental care

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Single egg is laid mid-November to early December on Midway Island. Incubation, in long turns by both sexes, lasts 63-68 days. Young are tended by both sexes. Nestling stage lasts about 140 days. May not breed until 5+ years old. Life-long pair bond. Does not renest if egg is lost.

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Phoebastria nigripes

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 3 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.

Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.

See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNTAATTGGAGGATTCGGAAACTGACTAGTACCACTTATAATCGGTGCCCCCGACATAGCATTCCCACGTATAAACAATATAAGCTTCTGACTACTACCCCCGTCCTTCCTCCTCCTGCTAGCATCTTCCACAGTAGAAGCAGGGGCAGGGACAGGATGGACTGTATATCCACCCTTAGCAGGCAACCTTGCCCACGCAGGGGCTTCAGTAGACCTAGCCATCTTCTCCCTCCACCTGGCAGGTGTCTCATCTATCCTGGGGGCAATTAACTTCATCACAACTGCCATCAACATAAAACCTCCAGCCCTTTCACAATACCAAACCCCCCTATTCGTATGATCTGTACTCATCACTGCCGTCCTACTCCTGCTCTCACTCCCAGTCCTTGCTGCCGGCATTACCATACTACTAACAGATCGAAACCTAAACACTACATTCTTCGATCCAGCCGGAGGAGGGGACCCAGTCCTATATCAACACCTCTTCTGATTCTTTGGCCANNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN
-- end --

Download FASTA File

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Phoebastria nigripes

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 3
Specimens with Barcodes: 6
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
NT
Near Threatened

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2014

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S.

Contributor/s
Flint, B., Gales, R., Gilman, E., Harrison, C., Lewison, R., Misiak, W., Mitchell, L., Nel, D., Nisbet, I., Phillips, R., Rivera, K. & Shaffer, S.

Justification
An analysis of recent data suggests that this species's population is not undergoing rapid declines, as once thought, and is either stable or increasing. However, modelling of the likely effects of mortality caused by longline fishing fleets, combined with potential losses to breeding colonies from sea-level rise and storm surges, suggests it is appropriate to precautionarily predict a moderately rapid population decline over the next three generations (56 years), hence its classification as Near Threatened rather than Least Concern.


History
  • 2013
    Near Threatened (NT)
  • 2012
    Vulnerable (VU)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)