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ESPANOLA ISLAND GALAPAGOS
BIRDWATCHING - WAVED ALBATROSSES

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During our Galapagos Islands tour of Punta Suarez, our M/Y Eric cruise group was fortunate to observe several waved albatrosses.

Waved albatross
Waved albatross
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

"Espanola is the only place in the world where waved albatrosses breed," said Ceci Guerrero, one of our expert Galapagos cruise guides. With the exception of eight to 10 albatross couples on Isla de la Plata, Ecuador, the entire world's population of waved albatrosses (12,000 pairs) breed on Espanola Island.

The name of the waved albatross (scientific name: Phoebastria [formerly Diomedea] irrorata]) comes from the delicate wave patterns on the feathers of their breasts, at the base of their necks and on their upper tails. The back of their white necks have a creamy yellow color.

When is the best time to see waved albatrosses?

According to Ceci, you can only see waved albatrosses on Espanola between April and late December, or early January. We visited Isla Espanola (also called Hood Island) in October, a perfect time for birdwatching because both adults and albatross chicks are in their nests.

Waved albatross pair
Waved albatross pair
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

"Male albatrosses arrive on Espanola in the first week of April to look for nesting sites and then the females follow," explained our Galapagos National Park guide. "Albatrosses mate for life."

Mating and egg incubation

We watched albatross pairs bonding in their ground nests. Using their yellow bills like fencing swords, they swung their heads from side to side, clacking their beaks.

"After the female albatross lays a half-pound (225-gram) egg, both parents incubate it for 63 days," said Ceci. To regulate the egg's temperature, they rotate it around the ground with their feet.

Abandoned waved albatross egg
Abandoned waved albatross egg
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Unfortunately, sometimes an egg gets wedged between rocks. We found one abandoned albatross egg.

Waved albatrosses incubate their eggs in April, May and June. In June and July, the first eggs hatch.

Albatross feeding

"Albatross chicks have only six months to grow up and be strong enough to fly to South America," explained Ceci Guerrero. "After fledging, waved albatrosses leave Galapagos and don't come back until they are sexually mature, when they are about five years old."

By tagging albatrosses, scientists have learned that it takes two weeks for them to fly 1,240 miles (2,000 kilometers) round-trip from the Galapagos to the coast of South America where they fish.

Waved albatross chick exercises wings.
Waved albatross chick exercises wings.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Albatrosses are nocturnal birds that eat flying fish and squid. "Waved albatrosses are critically endangered because they get caught in fishing lines along the coasts of Chile and Peru," said Ceci.

Immature waved albatross
Immature waved albatross
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Albatross chicks

Both parents feed their chicks. We observed fuzzy brown albatross chicks, nearly as large as their parents, filling several nests on Espanola Island. Some exercised their immature wings by flapping them in the air.

Waved albatrosses have specialized compartments in their stomachs to store fish for two weeks. They deposit nearly two pounds (0.9 kilograms) of predigested fish into their chick's open mouth.

Because it takes at least 14 days for the albatross chick to digest all that food, they can fly back to South America for another two weeks.

Photographing blow-hole by cliffs where albatrosses launch
Photographing blow-hole by cliffs where albatrosses launch
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Albatross flight

"Waved albatrosses are the largest endemic bird in the Galapagos," said Ceci. Although they are long-distance flyers, their large wings make it difficult for them to launch and land. The albatross wingspan is seven feet (two meters) long.

As we sat on a cliff edge, watching waves erupt 45 to 90 feet (14 to 28 meters) through a blow hole, we saw albatrosses catch updrafts to help them take off. Waddling with their large feet to the cliff edge, they patiently waited with wings extended for a gust of wind to propel them skyward.

It was a memorable birdwatching experience.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Ecoventura: www.ecoventura.com

Copa Airlines: www.copaair.com

Ecuador Ministry of Tourism: www.ecuador.travel

More things to see & do in the Galapagos Islands:

Fernandina Island Galapagos - Marine Iguanas and Sally Lightfoot Crabs

Darwin Bay Tower Island Galapagos - What to See

Santa Cruz Galapagos Giant Tortoise Reserve - Rancho Primicias

North Seymour Galapagos Trip - Land Iguanas and Magnificent Frigatebirds

Santiago (James) Island Galapagos - Birds, Animals and Plants