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Black-footed Albatross Phoebastria nigripes

This species has been downlisted from Vulnerable as analysis of recent data suggests that its population is not undergoing rapid on-going declines and is either stable or increasing. However, modelling of the likely effects of mortality caused by longline fishing fleets, combined with potential losses to breeding colonies from sea-level rise and storm surges, suggests it is appropriate to precautionarily predict a moderately rapid population decline over the next three generations (56 years), hence its classification as Near Threatened rather than Least Concern.

Taxonomic source(s)
AOU. 1998. Check-list of North American birds. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
Brooke, M. De L. 2004. Albatrosses and petrels across the world. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
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.
Sibley, C. G.; Monroe, B. L. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.
Stotz, D. F.; Fitzpatrick, J. W.; Parker, T. A.; Moskovits, D. K. 1996. Neotropical birds: ecology and conservation. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Turbott, E. G. 1990. Checklist of the birds of New Zealand. Ornithological Society of New Zealand, Wellington.

Diomedea nigripes Cramp and Simmons (1977-1994), Diomedea nigripes Sibley and Monroe (1990, 1993), Diomedea nigripes Stotz et al. (1996), Diomedea nigripes Turbott (1990), Diomedea nigripes nigripes Cramp and Simmons (1977-1994), Diomedea nigripes nigripes Sibley and Monroe (1990, 1993), Diomedea nigripes nigripes Stotz et al. (1996), Diomedea nigripes nigripes Turbott (1990)

Identification. 68-74 cm. Small, all dark albatross, uppertail coverts normally white. Dark bill, dark legs. Juvenile, even more uniform brown. Similar species. None within range.

Distribution and population
Phoebastria nigripes breeds on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (USA), the US Minor Outlying Islands and three outlying islands of Japan, colonies having been lost from other Pacific islands (Whittow 1993, Cousins 1998). In total there are estimated to be 64,500 pairs breeding each year (Flint 2007, Naughton et al. 2007) in at least 14 locations. The largest populations are c.24,000 and 21,000 pairs on Midway Atoll and Laysan Island respectively, which together account for 73% of the global population (Flint 2007, Naughton et al. 2007). On Torishima, 914 chicks were reared from 1,219 pairs in 1998, compared with just 20 in 1964 (Cousins and Cooper 2000). The species disperses widely over the northern Pacific Ocean, particularly to the north-east, towards the coastal waters of North America. There have been occasional records in the southern hemisphere (Carboneras 1992b, Fernandez et al. 2001, Hyrenbach and Dotson 2001, BirdLife International 2004, Hyrenbach et al. 2006, S. Shaffer in litt. 2007).

Population justification
Counts in the 2006-2007 breeding season produced population estimates of 64,500 pairs, equivalent to 129,000 breeding individuals (Flint 2007). This estimate is based on standardised surveys at Midway Atoll, Laysan Island and French Frigate Shoals in 2006 (551,940 pairs; 25,780 95% CI; Flint 2007). These three colonies support 90% of the global breeding population. Estimates for the other colonies are the most recent available (1982-2006). There are c.23 pairs breeding on the Bonin Islands in Japan, and c.400 pairs on islands offshore from Mexico (primarily Isla Guadalupe, 337 pairs estimated in 2005; Hyrenbach and Dotson 2003).

Trend justification
Monitoring data from three colonies in Hawaii, representing over 75% of the world's population, suggest that numbers may have decreased by 9.6% between 1992 and 2001 (Gilman and Freifeld 2003, USFWS data per E. Flint 2003). However, linear regression analysis of log-transformed counts at the same colonies suggests that the species’s population has remained stable since at least 1957 and has increased overall since 1923, and matrix modelling suggests that its population is currently stable or increasing slightly (Arata et al. 2009). In addition, trends over a three generation period (56 years) commencing in 1956 were estimated at +26% using TRIM (ACAP unpubl. data).

In 2003, estimated rates of incidental mortality in longline fisheries in the North Pacific Ocean (based on a moderate bycatch scenario of 8,000 birds being killed per year) resulted in a projected future decline of more than 60% over the next three generations (56 years), if bycatch mortality was not reduced through mitigation measures (Lewison and Crowder 2003). However, the demographic parameters for Lewison and Crowder’s (2003) model, namely survival probability, growth probability and fecundity, were based on data from the 1960s and 1970s, for which it was incorrectly assumed that no bycatch took place (Arata et al. 2009). This implies that the basic parameters for a stable population with no additional mortality were actually estimated from a population already experiencing significant bycatch, and were thus underestimated. This appears to have led to an overestimation of the declines that would result from the annual bycatch scenarios tested by Lewison and Crowder (2003), by counting this source of mortality both within the demographic parameter estimates and within the simulation scenario, effectively doubling the impact of fisheries (Arata et al. 2009). Nevertheless, likely bycatch levels are still predicted to cause a decline in the population, albeit not as rapid as previously projected (Arata et al. 2009). Other studies on this species have confirmed the impact of fisheries bycatch on survival (Verán et al. 2007) and the annual population growth rate (Niel and Lebreton 2005). Annual bycatch was estimated at 5,228 birds in 2005, which, if doubled to account for underestimation, approaches the maximum Potential Biological Removal (PBR) level of 11,980 birds, which is calculated to be the maximum level of off-take possible without causing a decline (Arata et al. 2009). The maximum PBR level for this species has also been estimated at 8,850 birds per year (Niel and Lebreton 2005) and 10,000 birds per year (Cousins and Cooper 2000).

It still remains necessary to robustly model the future impact of bycatch on this species. In the meantime, given the risk of bycatch approaching PBR, and potential risk to nesting habitat from sea-level rise (Storlazzi et al. 2013), it seems appropriate to precautionarily project future declines approaching 30% over the next 56 years (three generations).

It breeds on beaches and slopes with little or no vegetation, and on short turf. The species feeds mainly on flying fish eggs, squid, fish and crustaceans (Harrison et al. 1983), but also on fish offal and human refuse (Cousins 1998). During the brooding period, birds at Tern Island forage predominantly within the vicinity of the island. This foraging range expands during the rearing period to include the distant and more productive Californian Current (Hyrenbach et al. 2002).

Its populations declined significantly owing to feather and egg collecting in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but then recovered during the first half of the twentieth century. Between 1978 and 1992, the population experienced elevated mortality from interactions with high seas drift-nets in the North Pacific (Johnson et al. 1993). Bycatch estimates from driftnets put yearly bycatch (at least in 1990) at c.4,000 birds per year. Currently, the species interacts with longline fisheries in the North Pacific. In 2003, mortality was estimated to be at least 2,000 birds per year in U.S.-based fisheries and a further 6,000 in Japanese/Taiwanese fleets (Lewison and Crowder 2003). Recent estimates indicate a significant reduction in U.S. longline bycatch from previous years that is very likely attributable to the use of effective seabird avoidance measures, with an average of 130 birds killed per year in longline fisheries in Alaska and Hawaii between 2004 and 2006 (K. Rivera in litt. 2007). Bycatch rates in the Japanese and Taiwanese longline fleets are still largely unknown. However, studies on this species have confirmed the impact of fisheries bycatch on survival (Verán et al. 2007) and the annual population growth rate (Niel and Lebreton 2005). Satellite tracking studies show that post-breeding birds disperse over large distances to the oceanographic 'transition zone' where they are susceptible to bycatch in the U.S. and foreign pelagic longline fleets (Hyrenbach and Dotson 2003; BirdLife International 2004; Hyrenbach et al. 2006). Within this area, tracking revealed that fishing effort was heavy in the habitats utilised by the species, and that there may be a male bias in the individuals affected by bycatch.

Storm waves and sea-level rise may represent significant future threats, since the vast majority of the world population nests on islands below 10 m above sea-level. Recent models that consider dynamic wave action predict greater losses than anticipated of nesting habitat at lower values of predicted sea-level rise for several important breeding islands (Storlazzi et al. 2013). These more realistic models, in concert with accelerating sea-level rise, suggest the possibility of repeated catastrophic reproductive failure in the future caused by the loss of nest sites.

Other threats include pollution (including organochlorines and heavy metals) (Jones et al. 1996, Auman et al. 1997; Finkelstein et al. 2007), introduced predators such as the Polynesian rat Rattus exulans (Hasegawa 1984, Jones et al. 2008), plastic ingestion (though this may not affect chick growth rate; I. C. T. Nisbet in litt. 2010) and volcanic eruption on Torishima (Harrison 1990). Oil pollution is no longer considered a likely threat (I. C. T. Nisbet in litt. 2010).

Conservation Actions Underway
All Hawaiian breeding localities are part of the US National Wildlife Refuge system or State of Hawaii Seabird Sanctuaries. In 1991, a 50 Nautical Mile Protected Species Zone was established around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. No longline fishing is allowed in this zone. In 2006, the Papahânaumokuâkea Marine National Monument was established. Nearly 80% of the breeding population is counted directly or sampled every year. All sites except one have been surveyed since 1991 (Croxall and Gales 1998). Hawaiian longline fishing vessels are required to use a range of measures to reduce seabird bycatch. In December 2006, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission passed a measure to require large tuna and swordfish longline vessels to use at least two seabird bycatch mitigation measures when fishing north of 23 degrees North. The FVOA which represents the longlining captains in the halibut and sablefish fisheries along the US West Coast has instructed its members to use streamer lines when fishing in Washington, Oregan and Californian waters. Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue monitoring population trends and demographic parameters. Continue satellite-tracking studies to assess temporal and spatial overlap with longline fisheries. Adopt best-practice mitigation measures in longline fisheries within the species's range. Re-evaluate the location of the current boundary (23o N) for required use of seabird mitigation measures in the U.S. pelagic longline fisheries (Hyrenbach and Dotson 2003).

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Arata, J. A.; Sievert, P. R.; Naughton, M. B. 2009. Status assessment of Laysan and black-footed albatrosses, North Pacfic Ocean, 1923-2000. U. S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2009-5131. U. S. Geological Survey, Reston.

Auman, H. J.; Ludwig, J. P.; Summer, C. L.; Verbrugge, D. A.; Froese, K. L.; Colborn, T.; Giesy, J. P. 1997. PCBs, DDE, DDT and TCDD-EQ in two species of albatross on Sand Island, Midway Atoll, North Pacific Ocean. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 16: 498-504.

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

Brazil, M. 2009. Birds of East Asia: eastern China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, eastern Russia. Christopher Helm, London.

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.

Cousins, K. L. 1998. Black-footed Albatross population biology workshop. 'Elepaio 58: 47-53.

Cousins, K.; Cooper, J. 2000. The population biology of the Black-footed Albatross in relation to mortality caused by longline fishing. Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, Honolulu.

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.

Fernandez, P.; Anderson, D. J.; Sievert, P. R.; Huyvaert, K. P. 2001. Foraging destinations of three low-latitude albatross (Phoebastria) species. Journal of Zoology (London) 254: 391-404.

Finkelstein, M. E.; Grasman, K. A.; Croll, D. A.; Tershy, B. R.; Keitt, B. S.; Jarman, W. M.; Smith, D. R. 2007. Contaminant associated with alteration of immune function in Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes), a North Pacific predator. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 26: 1896-1903.

Flint, E. 2007. Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge and Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge - annual nest counts through hatch year 2007.

Gilman, E.; Freifeld, H. 2003. Seabird mortality in North Pacific longline fisheries. Endangered Species Update 20: 35-46.

Gould, P. J.; Hobbs, R. 1993. Population dynamics of the Laysan and other albatrosses in the North Pacific. North Pacific Fisheries Commission Bulletin 53: 485-497.

Harrison, C. S. 1990. Seabirds of Hawaii: natural history and conservation. Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London.

Harrison, C. S.; Hida, T. S.; Seki, M. P. 1983. Hawaiian seabird feeding ecology. Wildlife Monographs 85: 1-71.

Hasegawa, H. 1984. Status and conservation of seabirds in Japan, with special attention to the Short-tailed Albatross. In: Croxall, J.P.; Evans, P.G.H.; Schreiber, R.W. (ed.), Status and conservation of the world's seabirds, pp. 487-500. International Council for Bird Preservation, Cambridge, U.K.

Hyrenbach, K. D.; Dotson, R. C. 2001. Post-breeding movements of a male Black-footed Albatross Phoebastria nigripes. Marine Ornithology 29: 7-10.

Hyrenbach, K. D.; Dotson, R. C. 2003. Assessing the susceptibility of female black-footed albatross (Phoebastria nigripes) to longline fisheries during their post-breeding dispersal: an integrated approach. Biological Conservation 112: 391-404.

Hyrenbach, K. D.; Fernez, P.; Anderson, D. J. 2002. Oceanographic habitats of two sympatric North Pacific albatrosses during the breeding season. Marine Ecology Progress Series 233: 283-301.

Hyrenbach, K. D.; Keiper, C.; Allen, S. G.; Ainley, D. G.; Anderson, D. J. 2006. Use of marine sanctuaries by far-ranging predators: commuting flights to the California Current System by breeding Hawaiian albatrosses. Fisheries Oceanography 15: 95-103.

Johnson, D. H.; Shaffer, T. L.; Gould, P. J. 1993. Incidental catch of marine birds in the north Pacific high seas driftnet fisheries in 1990. North Pacific Fisheries Commission Bulletin 53: 473-483.

Jones, H.P., Tershy, B.R., Zavaleta, E.S., Croll, D.A., Keitt, B.S., Finkelstein, M.E. and Howald, G.R. 2008. Severity of the effects of invasive rats on seabirds: a global review. Conservation Biology 22(1): 16-26.

Jones, P. D.; Hannah, D. J.; Buckland, S. J.; Day, P. J.; Lethem, S. V.; Porter, L. J.; Auman, H. J.; Sanderson, J. T.; Summer, C.; Ludwig, J. P.; Colborn, T. L.; Giesy, J. P. 1996. Persistent synthetic chlorinated hydrocarbons in albatross tissue samples from Midway Atoll. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 15: 1793-1800.

Lewison, R. L.; Crowder, L. B. 2003. Estimating fishery bycatch and effects on a vulnerable seabird population. Ecological Applications 13: 743-753.

Naughton, M. B; Romano, M. D.; Zimmerman, T. S. 2007. A Conservation Action Plan for Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes) and Laysan Albatross (P. immutabilis).

Niel, C. and Lebreton, J.D. 2005. Using demographic invariants to detect overharvested bird populations from incomplete data. Conservation Biology 19(3): 826-835.

Storlazzi, C. D.; Berkowitz, P.; Reynolds, M. H.; Logan, J. B. 2013. Forecasting the Impact of Storm Waves and Sea-Level Rise on Midway Atoll and Laysan Island within the PapahÄnaumokuÄkea Marine National Monument - A Comparison of Passive Versus Dynamic Inundation Models. U.S. Department of the Interior; U.S. Geological Survey.

Veran, S.; Gimenez, O.; Flint, E.; Kendall, W. L.; Doherty, P. F.; Lebreton, J. 2007. Quantifying the impact of longline fisheries on adult survival in the Black-footed Albatross. Journal of Applied Ecology 44: 942-952.

Walsh, H. E.; Edwards, S. V. 2003. Conservation genetics and Pacific fisheries bycatch: Mitrochondrial differentiation and population assignment in black-footed albatrosses (Phoebastria nigripes). Conservation Genetics 6: 289-295.

Whittow, G. C. 1993. Black-footed Albatross (Diomedia nigripes). In: Poole, A.; Gill, F. (ed.), The birds of North America, No. 65, pp. 1-16. The Academy of Natural Sciences and The American Ornithologists Union, Philadelphia and Washington, DC.

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

Detailed species accounts from the Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 2001).

Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Calvert, R., Small, C., Sullivan, B., Taylor, J. & Symes, A.

Flint, B., Gales, R., Gilman, E., Harrison, C., Lewison, R., Misiak, W., Mitchell, L., Nel, D., Nisbet, I., Phillips, R., Rivera, K. & Shaffer, S.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2014) Species factsheet: Phoebastria nigripes. Downloaded from on 17/04/2014. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2014) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 17/04/2014.

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 - Black-footed albatross (Phoebastria nigripes) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Near Threatened
Family Diomedeidae (Albatrosses)
Species name author (Audubon, 1849)
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Increasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 29 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species