Courtesy Kenn Kaufman
The majority of Black-footed Albatrosses nest on remote islands and atolls in the Hawaiian archipelago: Midway Atoll, Laysan Island, Kure Atoll, Pearl & Hermes Reef and others. Small colonies continue on the Torishima, Bonin, and Senkaku Islands south of Japan. Before feather hunters in the 19th Century and the effects of World War II, breeding colonies also existed on these islands: Johnston, Marcus, Marshall, Northern Marianas, Volcano, and Wake. In summer, this albatross spreads across the northern Pacific into the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. The most commonly sighted albatross in continental North American waters, this species can be found reliably off the western coast of North America from June to August, although they may be present throughout the year.
This species prefers to nest on the undisturbed sandy shores of remote Pacific Islands, north of the Equator. It forages over deep water, near to shore and over the open ocean. Several birds, tracked by satellite, traveled over 15,000 km (9,300 miles) - from their breeding grounds in Hawaii to the continental shelf off Oregon and northern California - during foraging trips to gather food for their young.
The Black-footed Albatross forages mostly during the day by snatching prey from the surface of the ocean, dipping into it like a duck, or diving just below the surface. The diet includes flying fish and their eggs, crustaceans like the red opossum shrimp (not really a shrimp; Gnathophausia gigas) and isopods (Anuropus branchiatus), many squid like Taonius borealis (no common name), and other fish. This albatross readily scavenges and follows fishing vessels to take discards and to pull bait from submerged hooks.
In October and early November, the Black-footed Albatross returns to its breeding grounds, usually within a few yards of the previous year's nest. Life-long pairs reinforce old bonds with a series of postures to create a ritualized dance. Among the ten described behaviors, they bow, gently touch bills, preen each other, and shake their heads as they whine. The nest is a depression in the sand, sometimes ringed with loose vegetation to protect against high tides. Both adults share in the responsibilities of caring for the egg and young. Marked on the round end with brown spots, one white egg is incubated by the pair for about 65 days. The downy hatchling requires brooding, regurgitated food, and guarding (up to 19 days). Young Black-footed Albatrosses fledge in 20-21 weeks and do not return to the breeding grounds until their third year, when they practice courtship and nesting behaviors, but do not breed until five years old.
After the young fully fledge in June and July, the Black-footed Albatross appears to scatter over the northern Pacific Ocean, but a few tracking data indicate patterns. Juveniles and non-breeders appear to move northwest of the Hawaiian Islands. A study in 2004/2005 found that post-breeding females (3 of 4) tended to remain in the eastern Pacific, while all males (5 of 5) moved into the western Pacific. More specific information on migratory behavior is needed.