The Waved albatross (Phoebastria irrorata), also known as Galapagos albatross, is the only member of the family Diomedeidae located in the tropics. When they forage, they follow a straight path to a single site off the coast of Peru, about 1,000 km (620 mi) to the east. During the non-breeding season, these birds reside primarily on the Ecuadorian and Peruvian coasts.
Waved albatrosses spend their time in the ocean between the west coasts of Peru and Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. They come to the small island of Isla Espanola in the Galapagos to breed along the south/southeast coast. There have been reports of waved albatrosses breeding at Isla de la Plata, an island about 20 kilometers off the coast of Ecuador, but these sightings are rare. The waved albatross has been spotted in Panama and Columbia, however they are rarely seen north of the equator. The breeding range has changed in the past few decades. Two inland breeding colonies on Isla Espanola disappeared between 1971 and 1994. The central breeding colony is located in the middle of the south coast and projects inward towards the center of the island. The majority of breeding occurs along the southern coasts which includes the far west Punta Suarez, as far south as South Point, and as far northeast as Punta Cevallos, with small isolated colonies inland west from Punta Cevallos.
Waved albatrosses are pelagic birds, spending their lives in the open ocean between the western coasts of Ecuador and Peru and the Galapagos Islands. When breeding, they nest in areas with limited plant life on hardened lava pools surrounded by boulders on a single island, Isla Espanola. More recently, they have been spotted nesting in thick brushwood, grasses, and shrubbery as the habitat has changed due to the eradication of invasive feral goats (Capra hircus). Breeding colonies are found from just above sea level to 215 meters.
These birds are light to dark brown in color on the abdomen with grey in transition spots as it changes to solid white at the head and neck. Their feet and legs are a blue tint, their eyes are dark brown, and they have a mustard yellow bill. Juvenile birds are similar to adults in color except that the head is more white than yellow/grey. Immature chicks are covered in a uniform brown plumage with a dark brown bill. The adults stand just shy of a meter in height (80 to 90 cm). The waved part of its name comes from the wave like pattern on the feathers of adult birds near the nape of the neck as the color transitions to brown. They weigh approximately 2.5 to 4 kilograms with males being considerably heavier than females. Because of their large size, they are clumsy on land and flying is possible but difficult. They need a running start and rely heavily on winds to launch them into the air. Once in the air, they have been described as being extremely graceful. They have a wingspan between 220 and 250 cm in length with males being larger than females.
Waved albatrosses are monogamous, mating for life. Male waved albatrosses arrive at Isla Espanola around late March and wait for their mates. Their courtship ritual is loud and boisterous. They face each other and do a series of honks, bows, and beak touching and chattering. Every few minutes, they circle each other and continue the dance. The dance may last several minutes. Newly coupled birds and established couples that had failed reproduction in the last season dance longer. After mating, the female lays a single egg. Waved albatrosses are cooperative breeders. They temporarily help others raise chicks or incubate eggs while biological parents are away.
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 linked to bycatch mortality in artisanal fisheries in its principal foraging grounds.