There are few things more graceful than an albatross in flight, and you may be fortunate enough to see on your Galapagos Islands cruise with Quark!
The Galapagos are home to the Waved Albatross, the only species of albatross found in the tropics. This is also the largest bird anywhere in the archipelago, with a wingspan up to 2.5 meters (8 feet).
There are only about 30,000 of these albatrosses in the Galapagos, and you will likely see them only on the island of Espanola, although there is also a tiny colony on Isla de la Plata, an island near Ecuador.
Colorful Galapagos Wildlife
The Galapagos albatross is a multi-colored wonder. It has a distinctive yellowish-white neck and head atop a mainly brown body, a long and bright yellow bill, and blue feet. It gets its “waved” name from the pattern of its feathers, which resemble waves.
Albatrosses on Espanola can be found in one of two distinct colonies. They spend most of the year here, but they are usually gone from January to March, traveling across the Pacific Ocean to the coasts of Ecuador and Peru.
Males arrive home first, followed by the females. The waved albatross mates for life, so the male will wait patiently for his partner to return to their breeding territory.
The courtship and mating dance of these birds is quite unique, and involves a great deal of circling, bowing and bill fencing! One egg will result from the breeding, and both parents will take turns incubating it. Strangely, the birds roll the egg around the ground, which actually seems to increase the odds it will hatch successfully.
Albatross Chicks on Your Galapagos Islands Expedition
One parent will guard the new dark brown chick after hatching, while the other parent searches for food. Then all of the colony's chicks are gathered into nurseries that are left unguarded while all of the parents go to sea.
The feeding process for chicks is quite fascinating. Whatever the parents eat while at sea is held in the stomach and turned into an oily liquid, rather than digested. When they return and find their chick, they will pump this oily liquid into the chick's stomach – as much as 2 kilos (4.5 lbs) worth at a time! The chick ends up looking like an over-inflated brown bag until the oil is digested.
When the chicks are fledged, they will travel with their parents across the Pacific. Unlike their parents, they will stay there for a number of years, until they are mature and ready to begin mating and breeding. That's when they will finally return to their birthplace on Espanola.
Endangered Species on Galapagos Islands
The albatross can live for up to 30 years, although populations are declining and the species is listed as “critically endangered,” due to various factors like its small breeding range, fishing and disease.
The bird's main food sources are squid, fish and crustaceans, and they seem to prefer to eat at night when their prey can be found closer to the water's surface. But they are also known to scavenge and will sometimes steal and eat other birds' regurgitated food.
A waved albatross waddles clumsily when it walks on land, but in flight it's a thing to behold. It can soar and glide for hours without stopping or stalling. They can begin their flights with the help of a strong headwind, or simply by jumping off a sea cliff.
If you want to see these beautiful and unique birds in their amazing home environment, get in touch with us today to start planning a Galapagos Islands holiday, an adventure you'll never forget!
Photos courtesy of Ecuador's Ministry of Tourism and Tiffany Merritt.