There is increasing concern over the conservation status of the Black-footed Albatross Phoebastria nigripes, of which 95% of the global population breeds in the USA's North-western Hawaiian Islands. The World Conservation Union lists the species as Endangered and the species is currently a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act in the United States (click here). Despite uncertain population trends, individuals have increasingly been documented prospecting breeding colonies in the main (South-eastern and inhabited) Hawaiian Islands.
Black-footed Albatrosses have been reported breeding in very small numbers on Lehua Islet, 30 km north of Kauai since at least the 1930s when the first surveys were conducted on the island. There are also recent, but unconfirmed reports of similarly small breeding colonies on nearby Niihau and on Kaula Rock. However, breeding has not been historically documented on either of the larger islands of Kauai or Oahu despite their growing breeding populations of Laysan Albatrosses P. immutabilis.
Black-footed Albatrosses are regularly observed at sea from the shores of Kauai and Oahu, but few records exist of them on land. On Kauai, Black-foots have been documented landing briefly one or two times at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge and at the Pacific Missile Range Facility where colonies of Laysan Albatrosses are present, with the most recent confirmed sighting being from 2009.
This year a single Black-footed Albatross has been landing regularly in the Ka'ena Point Natural Area Reserve on Oahu. Sightings of Black-footed Albatrosses on the ground at Ka'ena Point were documented in 2005, 2006 and 2007, but it was not until 23 February this year that another sighting was made. From 23 February what is thought to be the same individual has been sighted almost daily at Ka'ena Point, often displaying and roosting amongst the resident Laysan Albatrosses.
Ka'ena Point in particular should be a suitable site for Black-footed Albatrosses to commence breeding as it will soon be predator free following the construction of a fence that is expected to be completed later this month (click here).
For further information on the earlier records of Black-footed Albatrosses ashore on the South-eastern Hawaiian Islands click here.
Lindsay Young, ACAP North Pacific News Correspondent and John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 7 March 2011