Waved Albatross

Waved Albatross pairs, Espanola Island, Galapagos

Waved Albatross pairs, Espanola Island, Galapagos

There is a gusty island in the Galapagos where seabirds flock–a dry, barren, lava-covered place in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.


Here we had the rare opportunity to witness the courtship dance of the waved albatross.


Espanola Island is the southernmost and oldest of the Galapagos isles.  It is the first speck of land the birds come to after traveling 600 miles (1,000 km) from Ecuador and Peru.


With long wings that can soar without flapping for hours, the waved albatrosses spend most of their life at sea, foraging on fish, squid and crustaceans. It is only during breeding time, their brief phase on land, that we see them so close.


A bird with a critically-endangered conservation status, the waved albatrosses gather here to court and breed–the world’s largest concentration of this species. Named for a wavy feather pattern, they have a wingspan of 7-8 feet (220-250 cm).


There were two surreal things going on that day as we stood buffeting the strong winds. There were hundreds of seabirds at our feet, different species, all performing bizarre mating rituals; and we stood unnoticed in the middle of it…could have been rocks for all they cared.


And secondly, these were rarely seen birds, yet they were everywhere.


Waved Albatross

Waved Albatross

The courtship dance of the monogamous albatross is a spectacular event. They clack their long bills together, much like two people fencing. They bow in unison, strut around, and vocalize a squawking serenade.


Short You Tube video here.

Wikipedia overview of Phoebastria irrorata here

We were also surrounded by blue-footed boobies, read my previous post about that here.


Waved Albatross parent with egg

Waved Albatross parent with egg

The frigid waters of the Humboldt Current are plentiful with sea life for feeding their young. And the island is also predator-free, allowing the birds to nest on the ground without disturbance.


Months later, after the chicks are hatched and ready for flight, the albatrosses awkwardly waddle to the cliff edge. Their task has been completed, the cold, nutrient-rich waters will warm soon, and it’s time to return to sea, teach their young.


Waved Albatross

Waved Albatross

Facing strong tradewinds, the albatrosses step to the precipice, open their massive wings, and gracefully begin their very long flight.


Photo credit: Athena Alexander

Española Island is located in Galápagos Islands

Galapagos Islands. Tiny Espanola Island is bottom right; courtesy Wikipedia.

Golden Gate GraveyardFor a mystery adventure in San Francisco, my new book is now available in paperback or e-book. Purchase here or via Amazon and other online retailers.




48 thoughts on “Waved Albatross

    • I’ve been on pelagic trips and seen albatross the size of a pinhead, so seeing this magnificent bird up so close was truly delightful. The mating rituals were terrific to witness, and I found it profound to stand at the side of the cliff and watch them start their seafaring journey. They are, as you know Sherry, such a marvel. My thanks~~

  1. Jet I could watch that video clip all day long. My mouth hung open and I said to those two, as if they might possibly hear me or care “What in this green earth are the two of you doing? Fencing with your beaks? Developing a new dance routine?” To think you stood in a multitude of this shenanigans my mouth is still hanging open. That’s it we need to go back to the Galapagos for a month!

    • I wondered if you were able to witness this on Espanola Island, Sue. And now I am SO glad you got to see it here. It is just that kind of scene where we watched, yes, with our mouths hanging open. Have a wonderful week!

      • Unfortunately we didn’t get to Espanola Jet. We had 4 days in Galapagos which surely is a fraction of the time needed. Still so grateful for the experience and grateful to have sen more through your incredible posts.

      • Our tour in GI was on a small boat with about a dozen people, and I was sea sick every single day of the week we were there. Not only was it great to see these breeding colonies and unusual sights, but I just loved it when we got onto blessedly still land. ha.

      • Oh yikes that sounds quite dreadful I must say. We did a land based tour since I suffer from motion sickness. Of course this limits which islands you can go to. No easy answer I’m afraid.

    • I laughed so hard at this, Jan. Still laughing, actually. There’s one thing I don’t need and that’s being strapped to watching over an egg at my feet. Thanks, my friend, for this hearty laugh.

    • I’m glad you had a chance to check out the You Tube video, Joanne. It is really a spectacle to watch, especially when there are multiple dances going on, and the blue-footed boobies are sounding off their dance too. So fun, many thanks for your interest.

    • Thanks very much, David. I’m delighted you have had the pleasure of seeing albatrosses, they are indeed a majestic sight. I enjoyed your pelagic post and albatross photos. Happy birding to you!

  2. These are like small planes with a great capacity to fly fast and maintain the flight with the least effort. I saw them off the coast of Peru, have some shots from far but we couldn’t get close to the island because rough seas. Exciting though! Great post my dear friend. 🙂

    • My thanks, pc, for taking the time to check out the albatross courtship dance. Pretty fun to see, isn’t it? This is one amazing bird, I am glad you enjoyed them. I hope your week is going well~~

  3. The video cracked me up. I laughed aloud at the antics. It’s a wonder they don’t poke each other’s eyes out. Thanks for sharing this amazing ritual and your description of these marvelous birds.

    Did I mention I really, really liked your book? 😀

  4. Enjoyed your post, and the video. You are so lucky to see these majestic birds so close. I hope they won’t become extinct… Blue-footed boobies are so beautiful too. Thank you for sharing, Jet!

  5. I had to chance to see these beautiful birds while serving in the US Navy when my Destroyer stopped on Midway Island years ago. The was the first time I’ve ever seen them. I remember standing on the beach watching these birds go about their daily Life. They are funny to watch, with how they land in the sand. I may say they are sorta goofy! They seem to be so clumsy on land, but they are the master of the Sea. I also observed them flying just above the Main Mast of my ship. They just seem to glide along, hardly flapping their large wing span. At night they roosted in the Mast rigging, then took flight in the early morning hours. They always could be found just off the Fantail, waiting for something to eat when we dumped garbage over the side. It is also considered “bad luck” for a Sailor to kill a Albatross at Sea. It’s a old Sea Fairing Tale, but for some reason I tend to believe this. Nice Post, Jet. Brought some memories for me. Regards, Les. Thank for for following. It’s appreciated.

    • Oh how I enjoyed hearing about your albatross observations in the Navy, Les. You described them so well, their majestic flight and their awkward land clumsiness. It is easy to see you enjoyed their company on land and on sea. They’re a remarkable bird. I love that they roosted at night on the mast rigging — I had never heard this before and it makes perfect sense. Thanks so much for adding your experiences here, I really appreciate it.

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