It’s the month of May, the peak of nesting season for albatrosses. Found only on Española, the southernmost island of the archipelago, albatrosses are the Galapagos’ largest birds – with a wingspan of 7 to 8 feet (2 metres) – and are truly mesmerizing to watch. Make sure you check them off your Galapagos Big15 list! You will visit Española through our amazing Eastern Islands itinerary on Yacht La Pinta.
Isn’t it Romantic…
Albatrosses are pretty sentimental birds. Like their non-flying cousins, penguins, they remain with the same partner for the duration of their lives. However, they do have to court each other every time they meet again. In fact, they happen to be the choreographers of one of the Galapagos Islands’ most interesting mating rituals. The elaborate and complex performance includes dancing with their wings and fencing with their big, yellow beaks. This fast back-and-forth pattern that consists of slapping their beaks together sounds very much like drums weaving a beautiful rhythm. It is immediately followed by an upright posture in which they turn their opened beaks upward towards the sky and squawk loudly. An exaggerated parading and oscillation of the head, accompanied by a piercing quack, is also part of this mating ritual that can last from 10 to 15 minutes.
Duties During Nesting Season for Albatrosses
After mating, female albatrosses will lay only one egg. Both male and female albatrosses share parental duties equally when it comes to incubating the little one until it is born. They take turns again when taking care of the hatchling. Now these birds are an example of equality, aren’t they?
Most eggs will be laid between April and July and they will be incubated for a period of two months. Unlike other bird species, albatrosses do not make a nest but lay the egg directly on the ground. Both parents take three-week turns to incubate the egg and they also take turns gently rolling it around. An egg can be moved an average of 40 metres before it hatches.
The Ugly Duckling Phase
It is true that most new-born birds are not very pretty. Baby albatrosses are dark brown and covered with tangled-looking curly feathers. During the first weeks after the chick is born, one parent will stay to watch the baby, while the other goes out to the sea to look for food. As hatchlings grow older they are left at albatross nurseries (an unguarded albatross day-care!), giving both parents the chance to go off for longer periods of time and look for food. Albatrosses have the ability to turn the food they find into a kind of fish oil that they keep undigested in their stomachs until they are able to feed it to their baby. This means they can stay out at sea for longer periods while looking for food.
Nutritious fish oil
Upon reuniting with the baby chick, parents feed it through the regurgitation of as much as 2 kg of fish oil. This is more than the baby albatross can digest in one sitting, so often times they are left looking like little fluffy bubbles until they’re able to digest all of that yummy and pureed food they were just force-fed by their parents.
Once baby albatrosses have fully developed they leave their nurseries and fly west with their parents. When they mature, they will return to their colonies on Española Island to mate.