Waved albatrosses have a distinctive yellowish-cream head and neck, which contrasts with their brownish bodies. Their bill, being very long and bright yellow is another distinctive feature, appearing disproportionately large compared to its relatively small head and its long, slender neck. Their upper parts and underparts are chestnut brown (but not the breast) with fine barring, which on the rump is a little coarser. Their upper-wings, tail and back are brown, and their breast and underwings are whitish. Their axillaries are brown and their feet are blue. The young are similar to the adults but have more white color on their head. The chicks have fluffy brown feathers.
Waved albatrosses live in only one location - on the Galapagos Islands of Espanola – where they have formed two major colonies. They fly over coastal waters off Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador to forage. It is a marine bird and mainly pelagic. Breeding takes place on bare lava among boulders and bushes, in fairly open areas. It is usually never far from the ocean, near feeding areas.
The whole population migrates during the chick rearing and non-breeding periods. They are to be found somewhere between the waters east of the Galapagos and the coasts from Colombia to Peru. Waved albatrosses often congregate in rafts, sitting on the surface of the sea. They often feed during the night when squid are swimming closer to the surface. Sometimes they steal food from boobies (sula) and other species. Waved albatrosses seek food 10 to 100 km from the nesting site. Waved albatrosses are spectacular flyers, perhaps even the most famous. They can fly for hours without stalling and they do this by dynamic soaring. The wind speed near the surface of the sea is much lower than about 50 ft (15 m) in the air and Waved albatrosses use this to their advantage by gliding at speed into the wind. However, Waved albatrosses do have difficulty in landing due to their high stalling speed, and in taking off due to the challenge of beating their massive wings. To make it easier they sometimes take off from cliffs that are somewhat inland rather than beside the coast.
Waved albatrosses are monogamous and pair bonds are long-lasting and usually for life. The birds engage in a complex courtship ritual that can include bill circling and clacking, bowing, and mutual preening. The breeding period is in April and June. One whitish egg is laid and both parents incubate for a two-month period. Thick blackish-brown down covers the chick. When two weeks old, the chick is left in the nursery while the parents go to sea and fish. They return to feed the chick pre-digested oily fish liquid. Fledging takes place when the chick is 165 to 167 days old. In January it leaves the colony and stays at sea for several years until it is able to breed. It will reach reproductive maturity around 3 to 6 years.
Man is the greatest threat, mainly due to fishing activities but also by human consumption, and long-line fishing techniques both along the coasts and when it follows fishing vessels. Other threats are water pollution, chemicals, and oil slicks.
According to the Quasar Expeditions resource the total population size of the Waved albatross is around 50,000-70,000 birds, including 12,000 breeding pairs. According to the IUCN Red List on Española Island in the Galápagos archipelago, the breeding population of this species was estimated at least 34,694 adults. On Isla de la Plata ( Ecuador), there are probably fewer than 10-20 pairs. Overall, currently Waved albatrosses are classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are decreasing.