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Waved Albatross Phoebastria irrorata
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This species is classified as Critically Endangered because it has an extremely small breeding range, essentially confined to one island, and evidence suggests that it has experienced a substantial recent population decline.

Taxonomic source(s)
Brooke, M. de L. 2004. Albatrosses and Petrels Across the World. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.
Robertson, C. J. R.; Nunn, G. B. 1998. Towards a new taxonomy for albatrosses. In: Robertson, G.; Gales, R. (ed.), Albatross biology and conservation, pp. 13-19. Surrey Beatty & Sons, Chipping Norton, Australia.
SACC. 2006. A classification of the bird species of South America. Available at: #

Diomedea irrorata Collar and Andrew (1988), Diomedea irrorata Stotz et al. (1996), Diomedea irrorata Sibley and Monroe (1990, 1993), Diomedea irrorata Collar et al. (1994)

90 cm. Medium-sized albatross with white head, tinged buff-yellow on crown and nape. Chestnut-brown upperparts finely barred, coarser over rump. Brown upperwing, back and tail. Whitish breast, remainder of underparts barred, like upperparts. Whitish underwing, browner axillaries, brown around margins. Dull yellow bill. Bluish feet project beyond tail in flight. Juvenile like adult but with whiter head.

Distribution and population
Phoebastria irrorata breeds on south Española Island in the Galápagos Islands, and (perhaps) on Isla de la Plata off Manabí province, Ecuador (Croxall and Gales 1998). Breeding adults travel to the Peruvian upwelling region to feed (Anderson and Cruz 1998, H. Vargas and F. Cruz in litt. 2000), and in the non-breeding season birds move mainly east and south-east into the waters of the Ecuadorian and Peruvian continental shelf (Tickell 1996, Anderson and Cruz 1998, BirdLife International 2004). Rarely seen north of the equator, they are occasionally sighted off the coasts of Colombia and Panama (Jahncke 2007). On Española, the overall breeding population was considered to have been stable until recently. It was estimated at c.12,000 pairs in 1970-1971 (Harris 1973), 15,600-18,200 pairs in 1994 (Croxall and Gales 1998, Douglas 1998), and at least 34,694 adults in 2001 (Anderson et al. 2002). Although there has not been a global population estimate since 2001, surveys at two principal breeding sites on Española in 2007 demonstrated a decrease in the number of breeding birds since 2001, an overall population decrease (including non-breeders) at these sites since 1994 (Anderson et al. 2008). The breeding distribution has changed owing in part to vegetation regrowth following the eradication of goats (Anderson et al. 2002). Breeding no longer occurs at two inland sites, perhaps through redistribution to the coast (Anderson and Cruz 1998, Douglas 1998). On Isla de la Plata, there are probably fewer than 10-20 pairs (Anderson and Cruz 1998), and long-term data are too sketchy to assess population trends (Croxall and Gales 1998). In 2001, three adults were seen there with no evidence of breeding and a further 11 non-breeding adults were found on Isla Genovesa (Anderson et al. 2002).

Recent evidence has shown a 2-3% reduction in annual adult survival compared with that in the 1960s, which is thought to have driven recent dramatic declines in the breeding population (Awkerman et al. 2006, J. Croxall in litt. 2006, Anderson et al. 2008). Analysis of birds caught as intentional and incidental take in inshore fisheries has revealed that a disproportionate number of males are taken, which will result in further decreases to the effective population size given that this species has obligate bi-parental care (Awkerman et al. 2006). Even if immediate action was taken to curb adult mortality the population will continue to decline for a decade or so until the current cohort of juveniles reach breeding age (J. Croxall in litt. 2006). Breeding sites may be constrained by the extent and location of take-off points, which are in turn limited by dense vegetation (Gibbs and Woltz 2010).

Population justification
On Española, the breeding population was estimated at c. 12,000 pairs in 1970-1971, 15,600-18,200 pairs in 1994 and at least 34,694 adults in 2001. On Isla de la Plata, there are probably fewer than 10-20 pairs.

Trend justification
Awkerman (2006) showed that adult survival declined between 1999 and 2004. These findings were supported by Anderson et al. (2008). There is further evidence to suggest that the population declined between 1994 and 2007 (e.g. counts at Punta Suarez - Punta Cevallos from Anderson et al. 2002, 2008), however counts provide lower quality data than the mark-recapture estimates of annual survival (D. Anderson in litt. 2006). Based on this information, the population is estimated to have declined by 1-19 % over the last 84 years.

Behaviour This species breeds annually, arriving at colonies in late March (with males arriving earlier than females, and older birds earlier than younger birds) (Jahncke 2007), and laying from mid-April to late June. Chicks fledge between late December and early January. They are considered annual breeders, even though some pairs defer breeding (Jahncke 2007). The age of first breeding is at four to six years of age, but individuals return to colonies, typically late in the season, from two years of age (Hirschfeld 2008, ACAP 2009). Habitat Breeding It nests on sparsely vegetated areas with lava surrounded by boulders (Harris 1973) but also, more recently, in thick scrub vegetation (Anderson et al. 2002). Diet It feeds on squid, fish and crustaceans (Harris 1973), but recent studies have shown that the scavenging food items disgorged by other species (such as cetaceans and boobies) may be an important feeding strategy (Merlen 1996, Anderson and Cruz 1998). A tracking study showed that during the breeding season, those birds that breed on Española made foraging trips eastwards towards the continental shelf and along the coast of Peru (Awkerman et al. 2014). The small number of birds from Isla de la Plata made much shorter but more frequent foraging trips to the continental shelf. 

Recent studies indicate lower adult annual survival during 1995-2005 than estimates from the 1960s, as the species is suffering mortality within some inshore fisheries through intentional harvesting for human consumption and incidental bycatch (Awkerman et al. 2006). This is supported by reports, which suggest that the level of harvesting by fishers to supply food and feather markets has increased dramatically in recent years (G. Allport in litt. 2007). Around the Galápagos Islands, the transition from traditional to more modern fishing techniques such as longlining may pose a threat, as there is recent evidence of an increasing propensity for the species to follow fishing vessels (Awkerman et al. 2006). Longline fishing operations along the Peruvian and Ecuadorian coasts may therefore also threaten the species (Guillén et al. 2000, H. Vargas and F. Cruz in litt. 2000, Awkerman et al. 2006). Rates of bycatch incidence in the artisanal fishing communities off the coast of Ecuador have been estimated at 0.11 albatrosses/1,000 hooks (Alava and Haase 2011). Analysis of birds caught as intentional and incidental take in inshore fisheries has revealed that a disproportionate number of males are taken, and this appears to be at least partly responsible for a female-biased sex ratio (1.188 females per male) in adults (Awkerman et al. 2007). The tiny population on Isla de la Plata is threatened by nest-predation by rats and cats, as well as the illegal collection of eggs and young (Carboneras 1992). Movement of eggs by parents (frequently resulting in death of the egg) and mass desertions of eggs are yet to be fully explained (Anderson and Cruz 1998). An oiled albatross was found on Española during 2001 (Anderson et al. 2003).

The species has shown susceptibility to El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events, perhaps owing to increased adult mortality or increased negative interactions with fisheries under these conditions (Awkerman et al. 2006). Plastic ingestion appears to be a relatively minor threat in comparison with some other albatrosses (Anderson et al. 2008). Increased abundance of mosquitoes during warm El Niño events has caused the mass abandonment of eggs in the past (Jahncke 2007). Two hillside colonies disappeared entirely by 1994 due to dense vegetation, and overall declines in populations in other inland areas have also been attributed to habitat loss associated with vegetation regrowth since goats were eradicated in 1978 (Jahncke 2007). During the breeding season the species is affected by introduced mosquitoes (Wiedenfeld and Jiménez-Uzcátegui 2008).

Conservation Actions Underway
Española is part of the Galápagos National Park and Marine Reserve. Industrial, but not artisanal, longlining is prohibited in the Galápagos Marine Reserve (Anderson et al. 2003). In 1979, the islands were declared a World Heritage Site. Española is well protected and has no alien fauna (goats having been eradicated in 1978 [Anderson and Cruz 1998]), and tourism is well regulated (Carboneras 1992). A tortoise breeding programme has released over 2,000 tortoises on the island in the last 30 years; as the only native herbivore these animals may play a key role in vegetation control and maintaining suitable habitat for breeding albatrosses (Jahncke 2007). Isla de la Plata is part of Machalilla National Park, but is insufficiently protected (Carboneras 1992). The Agreement for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels organised workshops in Peru and Ecuador in 2007 and 2008 to develop an Action Plan for Waved Albatross. There are proposals to protect more marine key biodiversity areas within the Galápagos Marine Reserve by amending the existing marine zoning scheme to reduce the impact from fishing (Edgar et al. 2008).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Census the breeding population regularly and establish a baseline to ascertain trends. Further evaluate the threat of incidental and deliberate take in fisheries within the species's range. Adopt appropriate interim techniques to minimise bycatch. Assess the suitability of Isla de la Plata for breeding (Anderson et al. 2002). Improve protection for the Isla de la Plata colony.

ACAP. 2009. ACAP Species Assessment: Waved Albatross Phoebastria irrorata. Available at: #

Alava, J. J. ; Haase, B. 2011. Waterbird biodiversity and conservation threats in coastal Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. In: Grillo, O.; Venora, G. (ed.), Ecosystems Biodiversity, InTech.

Anderson, D. J. 2006. Basic science may save the Waved Albatross. Galapagos News: 8-9.

Anderson, D. J.; Cruz, F. 1998. Biology and management of the Waved Albatross at the Galápagos Islands. In: Robertson, G.; Gales, R. (ed.), Albatross biology and conservation, pp. 105-109. Surrey Beatty & Sons Pty Ltd, Chipping Norton, Australia.

Anderson, D. J.; Huyvaert, K. P.; Apanius, V.; Townsend, H.; Gillikin, C. L.; Hill, L. D.; Juola, F.; Porter, E. T.; Wood, D. R.; Lougheed, C.; Vargas, H. 2002. Population size and trends of the Waved albatross Phoebastria irrorata. Marine Ornithology 30: 63-69.

Anderson, D. J.; Huyvaert, K. P.; Awkerman, J. A.; Proaño, C. B.; Milstead, W. B.; Jiménez-Uzcátegui, G.; Cruz, S.; Grace, J. K. 2008. Population status of the critically endangered Waved Albatross Phoebastria irrorata, 1999-2007. Endangered Species Research 5(2-3): 185-192.

Anderson, D. J.; Huyvaert, K. P.; Wood, D. R.; Gillikin, C. L.; Frost, B. J.; Mouritsen, H. 2003. At-sea distribution of waved albatrosses and the Galápagos Marine Reserve. Biological Conservation 110: 367-373.

Awkerman, J. A.; Huyvaert, K. P.; Mangel, J.; Shigueto, J. A.; Anderson, D. J. 2006. Incidental and intentional catch threatens Galápagos Waved Albatross. Biological Conservation 133(4): 483-489.

Awkerman, J. A.; Westbrock, M. A.; Huyvaert, K. P.; Anderson, D. J. 2007. Female-biased sex ratio arises after parental care in the sexually dimorphic Waved Albatross (Phoebastria irrorata). The Auk 124(4): 1336-1346.

Awkerman, J.A., Cruz, S., Proaño, C., Huyvaert, K.P., Uzcátegui, G.J., Baquero, A., Wikelski, M. and Anderson, D.J. 2014. Small range and distinct distribution in a satellite breeding colony of the critically endangered Waved Albatross. Journal of Ornithology 155(2): 367-378.

BirdLife International. 2004. Tracking ocean wanderers: the global distribution of albatrosses and petrels. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

Carboneras, C. 1992. Diomedeidae (Albatrosses). In: del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J. (ed.), Handbook of the birds of the world, pp. 198-215. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Croxall, J. P.; Gales, R. 1998. Assessment of the conservation status of albatrosses. In: Robertson, G.; Gales, R. (ed.), Albatross biology and conservation, pp. 46-65. Surrey Beatty & Sons, Chipping Norton, Australia.

Douglas, H. D. 1998. Changes in the distribution and abundance of Waved Albatrosses at Isla Española, Galápagos islands, Ecuador. Condor 100: 737-740.

Edgar, G. J.; Banks, S.; Bensted-Smith, R.; Calvopiña, M.; A.; Garske, L. E.; Henderson, S.; Miller, K. A.; Salazar, S. 2008. Conservation of threatened species in the Galapagos Marine Reserve through identification and protection of marine key biodiversity areas. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 18: 955-968.

Gibbs, J. P.; Woltz, H. W. 2010. A pilot survey of the central colony of the Waved Albatross Phoebastria irrorata on Española Island. Galapagos Research: 18-21.

Guillén, A.; Jahncke, J.; Goya, E. 2000. Seabird bycatch by small-scale longline fisheries in northern Peru: a first approach.

Harris, M. P. 1973. The Galápagos avifauna. Condor 75: 265-278.

Hirschfeld, E. 2008. Rare Birds Yearbook 2009: the world's 190 most threatened birds. MagDig Media Ltd., Shrewsbury, UK.

IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-4. Available at: (Accessed: 19 November 2015).

Jahncke, J. 2007. Action plan for Waved Albatross Phoebastria irrorata.

Merlen, G. 1996. Scavenging waved albatross around the Galapagos Archipelago: at risk from longlines. Seabird Group Newsletter 74: 2-5.

Tickell, W. I. N. 1996. Galápagos albatrosses at sea. Sea Swallow 45: 83-85.

Wiedenfeld, D. A.; Jiménez-Uzcátegui, G. A. 2008. Critical problems for bird conservation in the Galápagos Islands. Cotinga: 22-27.

Further web sources of information
Additional information is available on the distribution of the Waved Albatross from the Global Procellariiform Tracking Database (

Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) species/site profile. This species has been identified as an AZE trigger due to its IUCN Red List status and limited range.

Click here for more information about the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE)

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Text account compilers
Anderson, O., Bird, J., Butchart, S., Calvert, R., Nel, D., Small, C., Stattersfield, A., Sullivan, B., Symes, A. & Ashpole, J

Allport, G., Anderson, D., Croxall, J., Cruz, F., McClellan, R. & Vargas, H.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Phoebastria irrorata. Downloaded from on 22/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 22/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Waved albatross (Phoebastria irrorata) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Critically Endangered
Family Diomedeidae (Albatrosses)
Species name author (Salvin, 1883)
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 1,740,000 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species