Bird Droppings: Laysan Albatross!

Mōlī, Hawaiian for Laysan albatross also means a Hawaiian tattooing implement (their bones were excellent for tattooing), graced every island in the Hawaiian archipelago nesting by the millions for thousands of years.

While visiting a friend on Oahu’s Northshore, I was informed of an albatross sanctuary I was not aware of that is open to the public.  It takes a very motivated public though, it is a 6 mile hike on a dirt road and sandy beach.  Ka’ena Point is the most isolated/least visited beach on Oahu, which makes it the perfect place for the albatross to nest.  While we were there the Laysan albatross (Moli in Hawaiian) were nesting.

They have over 6ft wingspans and weigh from 5 to 9 pounds.  They can live over 50 years and fly as far as 2,000 miles in a single day!  These magnificent birds can stay out at sea for up to five years before returning to their birthplace to mate.  In fact, that is the only time they ever spend on land!  They often don’t even touch land for over a year and tend to feed at night on squid, flying fish eggs and other sea life found near the surface.   

As you walk though this amazing place, the residents will circle around you, watching you and making sure you know they are there. They rarely flap but can use the wind to fly at breath taking speeds.

On land, albatross are very awkward and often have difficulty taking off and landing. This has gained them the nickname of “Goony Bird”. This parent had a stare off with us to let us know we were close enough to the nest. It is illegal to harass these birds in any way so you need to wait for them to move on if they are on the trail as this one was. Eventually it moved on. I say “it” because both parents spend time guarding the nests so I’m unsure what parent this is.

This is the little treasure they were guarding…

The parents will leave the chicks for up to several days to fish to provide food for them. This little one looks pretty well fed.

This is a very windy point and as the winds started to really pick up, this little guy decided to stretch his wings and see if he was ready for flight. I think his wings are still a little too short!

Although albatross are so awkward on land, they are graceful and impressive in flight. An albatross in flight can be so perfectly attuned to wind conditions that it may not flap its wings for hours, or even for days, as it can sleep while flying. It takes advantage of the air currents just above the ocean’s waves to soar in perpetual graceful motion.

While some of the nests are out in the open, others are hidden in the bushes that surround the sanctuary.

A note: I have a very large lens and am not as close to these birds as it appears. This parent did notice us and came out to check us out but she never appeared to be stressed by our presence.

Here’s what I believe to be a courtship ritual of a few of the younger generation trying to impress a possible mate with an elaborate dance…

To protect this magical place, a huge fence has blocked off this point from any predators and dogs are not allowed anywhere at this park. The fence goes underground into concrete and is over 8 feet tall, built to prevent rats and mongoose from getting in and eating the eggs or baby chicks. You can only enter via a heavy self closing door at a few locations. You can see the fence in the background in this overview picture.

Parents take turns patrolling the area and watching out for any threats.

I cannot recommend this place enough if you are a bird lover or just need a break from the what often seems ever present crowds of Oahu. If you go, just make sure to bring lots of water, sunscreen, your camera, binoculars, and don’t leave anything of value in your car. Oahu trails are notorious for break ins, especially rental cars. Hope you enjoyed this and have a great Sunday!


  1. That’s a great trip and beautiful photos.  Tracking flying birds is hard to pull off.
    The closest I got to anything so exotic is I was on a walk in my neighborhood about a month ago and behind the fence of an old mansion was a nearly white piebald whitetail getting groomed by another deer.

    I have a small sensor camera with a 50x zoom lens and it was just long enough to get that. Even that is kind of bulky for the kinds of walks I take, and I’m mulling over getting a smaller camera with a decent zoom, but I’m still thinking through whether to max out the zoom or go for a shorter zoom with a bigger sensor. I figure I’ll buy something used, so part of the choice will probably come down to what pops up on sale.

    • Thanks for the comments.  Yes, tracking birds is really hard, the auto focus was giving me fits with how fast these guys were flying.  I finally switched it to “servo” which allowed me to lock onto one and keep him in focus while I track them.  You definitely wouldn’t like my camera setup if you want to keep it small as I usually pack about 25-30 lbs of camera gear on any hike/adventure.  I was shooting a Canon 6DMarkII w/ a 70-200MM f2.8 lens w/ a doubler here.  That lens has built in stabilizer which really helps prevent motion blur but lens is very long and heavy.  I used to work in a camera store long ago and would usually tell customers the glass is more important than the zoom power on smaller cameras.  That was early days of digital.  Now a good sensor and longest optical lens is better than super power digital lenses though technology is changing quickly.  Most of these shots are not cropped very much but I can crop quite a bit on my images and still keep enough info to print a large picture.  Cool catch on the deer pic, timing is everything!

    • I’m feeling you.  I can’t sleep past 630am even on weekends anymore and the only time I sleep flying is when I get upgraded and have way too many free drinks!  Not sure about the reincarnated part though, they are eating way too much floating plastic and it is causing some serious issues for the albatross population.  People suck!

    • Thank you.  I have a confession, I am a professional photographer part time.  I used to do much more but the whole profession is kind of going to shit so now do it more for fun or my own projects.  Best thing about birds & wildlife is they don’t complain about shots or micromanage.

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