Kaʻupu - Blackfoot Albatross

Phoebastria nigripes


State-listed as Threatened State recognized as Indigenous Bird of Conservation Concern at the National Level

NatureServe Heritage Rank G5 - Apparently secure North American Waterbird Conservation Plan - High Concern

IUCN Red List Ranking - Endangered Regional Seabird Conservation Plan - USFWS 2005




The ka‘upu or black-footed albatross is the smallest albatross (Family: Diomedeidae) found in Hawai‘i. Adult males and females are entirely black except for a narrow whitish area at the base of the bill and another under the eyes; ten percent of the individuals also have a white rump and under-tail coverts. Like all albatross, ka‘upu (blackfooted albatross) are accomplished fliers using dynamic soaring to cover great distances. Ka‘upu (black-footed albatross) feed on the surface by seizing prey while sitting on the water, and will “tip-up” very similar to ducks. Like many seabirds, uses a well-developed olfactory sense to locate food. Ka‘upu (black-footed albatross) form long-term pair bonds and exhibit a high degree of nest site philopatry. Breeding occurs in large colonies and nests are placed on open, sandy beaches or dunes. Pairs engage in noisy, ritualized courtship dances. Pairs remain together until the death or disappearance of a partner but do not breed every year. Ka‘upu (black-footed albatross) nest in scooped out hollows on the upper parts of sandy beaches. In Hawai‘i, eggs are laid in November and chicks fledge in June and July, and like many seabirds, only one egg is laid per year. Both male and female incubate egg, and brood and feed young. Young birds do not return to land until their third year after fledging. These birds do not breed, but dance, build nests, and prospect for mates. Age at first breeding is at least 5 years old, and the oldest-known black-footed albatross is at least 43 years old.

Distribution & Abundance
Location and condition of key habitats

With the exception of a few breeding colonies off Japan, the breeding distribution of the black-footed albatross is restricted to the NWHI where breeding occurs on all islands. Historically, bred on Johnston, Marcus, Wake, Volcano Island, Marshall Island, and the Northern Marianas; no evidence of historically breeding on MHI. Non-breeding range is the northern Pacific Ocean.

In Hawai‘i, the population is estimated at approximately 55,000 breeding pairs; 95 percent of the world’s population. Majority of individuals breed on Laysan (19,500 pairs) and Midway (20,400 pairs).

Terrestrial: Ka‘upu (black-footed albatross) breed on low coral and sand islands, and use open sandy beaches or dunes for nest sites, occasionally nesting occurs among vegetation.
Marine: Pelagic.

Current Threats


Historically, feather hunters decimated populations. Occupation of Pacific islands by military during World War II also took a heavy toll on this species. For example, during the 1950s and 1960s tens of thousands were killed at Midway to reduce collisions with aircraft.

Fishing Industry

Longline fisheries now are responsible for the death of most ka‘upu (black-footed albatross); between 1990 and 1994, it is estimated that greater than 23,000 individuals were killed on longline hooks set by the north Pacific swordfish fishery. An estimated 1,800 were killed annually between 1994 and 1998 by the Hawai‘i longline fishery.

Marine Pollution

Similar to other albatross, ingestion of plastic debris and oil likely threaten ka‘upu (black-footed albatross).


Organochlorine levels high enough to result in eggshell thinning and embryonic defects have been detected in ka‘upu (black-footed albatross).

Global Climate Change

Ka‘upu (black-footed albatross) nest close to the shoreline, thus sea level increases may pose a critical threat.


The management goals are important to Pacific seabird conservation: maintain, protect, and enhance habitat; eradicate or control non-natives; minimize bycatch and other negative effects of fishing; improve the effectiveness of oil spill response efforts; identify contaminants and hazardous substances; and minimize the effects of powerlines, towers, wind turbines and lights (USFWS 2005). The goal of these management actions is not only to protect seabird populations and their breeding colonies, but also to reestablish former breeding colonies thereby reducing the risk of extinction. Past actions have included efforts to mitigate the impact of longline fisheries and predator control.