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The Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) is a large seabird that ranges across the North Pacific. That said, 99.7% of the population of this bird lives in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. This small (for its family) gull-like albatross is the second most common seabird in Hawaii.
In appearance, this albatross has blackish-gray upperwing, mantle, back, upper rump, and tail. Meanwhile, its head, lower rump, and underparts are white. Further, it has a black smudge around the eye. Finally, the bill is pink with a dark tip. Juveniles have a gray bill and a dark upper rump. This species does not have a breeding plumage.
A colony-forming bird, these albatrosses nest on scattered small islands and atolls. Their nests can be simple scoops in the sand or nests using vegetation. They breed annually, although some birds skip years. Juvenile birds return to the colony three years after fledging, but do not mate for the first time until seven or eight years old. During these four or five years they form pair bonds with a mate that they will keep for life. Courtship entails especially elaborate ‘dances’ that have up to 25 ritualized movements.
Occasionally the birds form same-sex pairs consisting of two females. This has been observed in the colony on the Hawaiian island Oahu, where the sex ratio of male to female is 2 to 3 and 31% of all pairs are between females. Paired females can successfully breed when their eggs are fertilized by males.
This phenomenon has been useful to conservation efforts. The female-female pairs will even hatch and raise foster-chicks.