The Mexican Dancer in Hawaii
I call this guy the Mexican Dancer, because he was banded as a chick on Isla Guadalupe in 2003. For the past two years, I’ve watched him tilt his head to the sky on remote bluff of land on the North Shore of Kauai. I’ve seen him bow his head, shake it and dip his bill under a lifted bent wing--as if he’s sniffing his armpit. If he had an armpit. I’ve heard him whistle, moo and clack his bill. For two seasons, I’ve watched this 10-year-old Laysan albatross perform his species’ complex courtship dance.
Well, this year, it looks like his salsa efforts have paid off. I discovered the Mexican Dancer sitting on an egg in a nest cup this Saturday afternoon.
You might be thinking, “Hey, wait. If that bird’s sitting on a nest, he must be a she, right?
Most seabird species found in Hawaii practice co-parenting. That is, both the male and female take turns incubating eggs, brooding chicks and, then, diligently heading out to sea to forage for food—hundreds if not thousands of miles away—and returning to feed their growing, demanding chicks.
Pretty cool, huh?
When Laysan albatross take to the air, where they spend the majority of their lives, they cover a wide swath of ocean using their six-foot wingspan to cruise the North Pacific. Ninety-some percent of all Laysan albatross breed in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands but new colonies are establishing—or, perhaps re-establishing—in places like Kauai, Oahu and Isla Guadalupe off Mexico. Generally, Laysan albatross return to breed at the place they were hatched. That’s why when I saw this guy two years ago, sporting an orange band with black letters on his leg, I knew something was up. His band color didn’t match the ones we use to band chicks on Kauai. Evidently, this guy is an explorer.
Typically, the males return to their breeding colonies first and await the females. Then, once the “cloacal kiss” event happens (that is bird-speak for sex), and the female lays her egg, the male takes the first shift on the nest, so mama can replenish her spent energy reserves. (Can you just imagine what it takes to make and expel an avocado-sized egg out of an opening the size of an eraser head? Good heavens.)
Let’s just hope this egg is fertilized. It doesn’t always happen. But we should know in 65 day, give or take. I’ll keep you posted.