The Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis), also known as the “gooney bird,” is a large seabird belonging to the Diomedeidae family and widely distributed across the North Pacific Ocean. You can find 99.7% of their total population in the Hawaiian Islands, Japan, and the Aleutian Islands.

These majestic seabirds are popular for their long wingspan and unique gliding abilities that allow them to travel long distances without flapping their wings. At the same time, they spend most of their lives at sea but return to specific breeding colonies on islands in the Pacific to mate and raise their chicks.

In this article, we’ll explore their appearance, habitat, diet, reproduction, threats, and other interesting facts about the Laysan albatross to shed light on the beauty and fragility of these amazing seabirds.


The Laysan albatross is a large bird that averages 81 cm (32 in) in length and has a wingspan of up to 2 meters (195 to 203 cm or 77 – 80 in).

These birds have a long, narrow beak adapted to catching fish and other small marine creatures. Their plumage is primarily white, with black feathers on their wings and back. Besides, they have a distinctive eye patch that is either dark brown or black, and their eyes are black with a white ring around the pupil.

Laysan albatross can have a wingspan of up to 2 meters
Laysan albatross can have a wingspan of up to 2 meters

Male and female Laysan albatrosses look similar, but males tend to be slightly larger. Studies show that the males typically weigh 2.4 to 4.1 kg (5.3 – 9.0 pounds), while females 1.9 to 3.6 kg (4.2 – 7.9 pounds).

Adult Laysan albatrosses have a characteristic dark smudge around their eyes. Also, they develop a distinctive pink blush on their bill and feet during the breeding season. On the other hand, juveniles have brownish-grey plumage and take about 4-5 years to reach their full adult plumage.


The Laysan albatrosses are seabirds found throughout the North Pacific Ocean. They breed and nest on sandy islands and atolls.

 Notably, the Laysan albatross has a unique breeding cycle. They only breed once a year, during the winter, typically from November to March.

Apart from the Hawaiian Islands, the Laysan albatrosses can also be found on other islands in the North Pacific, such as the Midway Atoll, the Bonin Islands, and the Marianas Islands. During the non-breeding season, they spend most of their time at sea, ranging from the coast of Alaska in the north to Japan in the west and California in the east.

The Laysan albatrosses prefer open ocean environments and are often found in areas with strong ocean currents and upwellings. Moreover, their flight pattern allows them to soar effortlessly over the ocean for long distances, sometimes covering thousands of miles without stopping.

Laysan albatrosses can be found soaring effortlessly over the North Pacific Ocean
Laysan albatrosses can be found soaring effortlessly over the North Pacific Ocean

In short, the Laysan albatrosses are well-adapted to their oceanic habitat and play an essential role in maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem.


Laysan albatrosses are carnivorous and primarily feed on fish and squid. They have a unique foraging behavior: sitting on the water’s surface and catching prey. They scavenge for food, especially during the non-breeding season when food is scarce. This scavenging behavior has led to some Laysan albatrosses ingesting plastic debris, which can harm their health.

Thanks to their highly developed olfactory system, these birds can detect the chemical signature of prey, even in low concentrations. This ability is critical for survival because it enables them to locate food in vast oceanic areas.

In addition to their primary prey, the Laysan albatrosses consume other marine organisms, such as krill, shrimp, and jellyfish, and scavenge on carrion and fishing discards. Moreover, during the breeding season, the adults may also regurgitate food for their chicks.


Laysan albatrosses are monogamous and form lifelong pair bonds. They breed on islands in the Pacific during the winter. The female lays one egg, which both parents take turns incubating for around 65 days.

Laysan albatrosses are monogamous and form lifelong pair bonds
Laysan albatrosses are monogamous and form lifelong pair bonds

After hatching, the chick is fed by both parents until it is ready to fledge at around six months. Once the chick has fledged, it will spend the next few years at sea, returning to its breeding colony when it reaches maturity at around five.


Laysan albatrosses face several threats. As we’ve seen, one of the most common ones is ingesting plastic debris. They often mistake plastic waste for food. Unfortunately, they can block the bird’s digestive system, leading to malnutrition and even death.

Climate change also threatens Laysan albatrosses, as rising sea levels could flood their nesting sites and disrupt their breeding patterns.

Also, invasive species such as rats, cats, and mice often prey on the bird’s eggs and chicks.

Facts About Laysan Albatross

  1. Laysan albatrosses are pelagic birds that spend most of their lives at sea.
  2. They are skilled gliders and can travel long distances without flapping their wings.
  3. These birds can drink seawater thanks to a specialized gland that removes excess salt from their bodies.
  4. Laysan albatrosses have a unique vocalization called a “moo” to communicate with their mates and chicks.
  5. During the breeding season, Laysan albatrosses perform elaborate courtship displays that involve bill clapping, head bobbing, and sky-pointing.
  6. The oldest known Laysan albatross, Wisdom, was about 70 years old as of 2021.
  7. The Laysan albatross plays a vital role in the ecosystem – they fertilize the soil on the breeding islands with their guano.


How tall is a Laysan albatross?

Adult Laysan albatrosses are typically around 2.5 to 3 feet (75 to 90 cm) tall. This measurement is about the same height as a large domestic turkey. When they are on land, they may appear even shorter due to their relatively small body size and the fact that they typically hold their head and neck close to their body.

What is the wingspan of a Laysan albatross?

The Laysan albatross has a wingspan of up to 6.5 feet (2 meters), one of any bird’s largest wingspans. This adaptation is crucial for the Laysan albatross because it allows them to soar effortlessly over the ocean for long periods. So, the wingspan enables these birds to conserve energy as they search for food. 

Where is the largest colony of Laysan albatross?

The largest colony of Laysan albatrosses is located on Midway Atoll, a Hawaiian archipelago’s remote island. Midway Atoll is a critical breeding ground for the Laysan albatross, with an estimated 1.5 million birds nesting on the island yearly. The albatrosses arrive at Midway in late October to begin their courtship and breeding season.

What does Laysan albatross eat?

The Laysan albatrosses are particularly well adapted to feed on flying fish, which they catch by skimming along the water’s surface with their bill open or by diving to depths of up to 20 feet (6 meters) to catch their prey. They also feed on squid, crustaceans, and other small fish in the open ocean.

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