The waved albatross is the biggest bird found in the Galapagos Islands and is one of the biggest birds found throughout South America. The only island where they can be seen in the Galapagos is Española, where they congregate to mate and nest in flat areas that are found all over the island.
Keeping an eye out for the Galapagos BIG15 is pretty much everybody’s mission during their trip to the enchanted isles. One of the most important members of this group of iconic species are the Galapagos waved albatrosses, which can only be spotted on Española Island which is located south of the Archipelago. When our day to hike at Española Island on our Eastern Islands itinerary finally arrived, everyone aboard the Santa Cruz II was tremendously excited; especially because they knew that this island, in particular, was a special place to fill out said checklist.
We started the hike watching as some big birds off in the distance flew around. We knew what kinds of birds they were, because this was the only island where guests can experience waved albatrosses; nevertheless, we wanted to get closer to see them. After hiking along rugged terrain for nearly forty-five minutes, we were finally rewarded with dozens of waved albatrosses flying around, walking and nesting in the flatter areas of the island. Getting the chance to see them so close to us, completely unafraid of human beings, was a breathtaking experience.
Even though Española Island is the only place to see the Galapagos waved albatross, this event does not last all year around. With the arrival of the warm Panama current in January, the productivity and food availability in the Archipelago waters decrease, forcing the albatross to migrate South towards the continent in pursuit of better feeding areas. Then, after 3 months of feeding in other areas along the continent, the strong winds coming from the South inform the waved albatrosses that is time to go back home to Española in the Galapagos Islands. By now, the water in Galapagos has cooled back down and productivity has risen back again. Once the productivity in the islands has increased again, the nesting season for the waved albatrosses will begin.
Galapagos waved albatrosses are monogamous birds. This means that, once they find a mate, they will mate for life. When the waved albatrosses return to Española Island, each individual will wait for the arrival of their partner, with whom they will get together and begin their breeding season. When guests experience waved albatrosses, they’ll often times be lucky enough to find that these birds have a very unique ritual before mating, where they will each perform a coordinated dance that sometimes even lasts for several hours. This courtship is a highly ritualized dance, where each partner must initiate and simultaneously try and react to the precise movements made by its partner. The pair faces each other with space between them so that they can lower their heads and stretch out their necks, beaks barely touching. Once their long and yellow bills finally do make contact, they quickly move and slide the ends of their bills around each other with gentle strokes and taps that make a hollow, wooden-sounding noise. This ritual is key a feature of checking whether or not the pair is compatible and will eventually mate for life.
Witnessing this level of magic within inches of ourselves is truly what makes the Galapagos what is! So what are you waiting for? Come to the Galapagos and experience the magic for yourself!