Midway Albatross Count: Day 3

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Midway Albatross Count: Day 3

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Destination: Hawaii Island , Kauai , Maui , Oahu
Dec 16, 2008

 For some reason, I have taken to the black-footed albatross.  So much so that my crewmate Lindsey knows to let me mark the nest sites that fall on the line between us.

Here we have two black-footed albatross practicing courtship.  Like Laysan albatross, these birds are not sexually mature until they are 7 to 9 years old.  After they fledge their nest, they spend the next 4 or 5 years roaming the oceans and never setting foot on land.  Once they do return, they spend a couple or three years hanging out around the nest sites and looking for a mate.  Like many of us who are marking their nest sites, albatross find their mates while dancing.

By the way, to answer a few questions.  We are using orange, florescent paint.  It’s water-based, so it will wash away with the rain.

And, no, we are not supposed to touch the birds.  However, Lindsey is a bird biologist, and today we noticed a Laysan albatross with a funny-looking wing.  She said the wing had folded improperly, and because of that, the bird would have a hard time unfolding its wing.  I think it’s because these six-and-a-half foot wingspans fold down like origami into something about a foot long.  So, Lindsey grabbed the clacking beak, and I unfolded its wing and re-folded it correctly.  So, yes, I got to touch it.

Laysan and black-footed albatross lay one egg a season.  That’s because both parents take turns, alternately, sitting on the egg. The male takes the first shift, which can last three weeks, while the female replenishes her energy stores.  She can burn up quite a few calories growing and laying that egg.

When the bird is not sitting, it’s flying hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles out to sea feeding on flying fish, fish eggs and other surface organisms, including plastic.  (I’ll get to this in a later post.  Argh.)

Once the egg hatches, the parents continue to take shifts, this time feeding the chick.  The parents regurgitate a protein packed smoothie for the chick’s only source of food until its fledges and starts feeding on its own–starting in late June.

What’s amazing is that the chicks stay pretty close to their nest sites, straying only a few feet, so that when its parent returns, they won’t miss a meal.  Right now, I already see parents looking down at their eggs and cooing.  It’s imprinting a unique sound for its chick to memorize.  That way, when the parent returns from sea and calls out, “It’s time for dinner,” the chick responds, “I am already at the table.”

This behavior is quite instinctive.  Lindsey told me today that she’s even heard chicks responding to its parent from inside the egg, before it hatches.

I am learning all kinds of crazy things.

Today’s trigger pulls:  3,203

Total to date:  5,992
(I have “trigger thumb” and have resorted to wearing a glove on my left hand.)

(Note:  When I return to civilization, I will re-post this video at a higher resolution.  The bandwidth here doesn’t allow for anything better than this.)


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