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Albatross Breeding Season 2021

Saturday November 14, 2020 comments Tags: albatross, albatross chicks, protect the albatross

August 2021

We have truly enjoyed following the albatross with you all this season. Geronimo was such a superstar to watch grow up and surprised us by fledging first. In all these years, our superstar has never been the first to fledge!

We were thrilled to see our superstars Blossom (2015) and Kai (2016) return back to land for the very first time. We are hopeful to see them return again next Spring with the rest of the teenage birds for more albatross dance parties and courtship.

The albatross nesting bluff fronting the noni orchards will be quiet for the next two months. But come early November, the adult birds will return from life at sea, reunite with their mates and we will once again be blessed with a glimpse into the lives of these amazing creatures- the Laysan albatross.

 

Geronimo at 2 weeks old with his Mom

July 2021

Geronimo has fledged!

His last week on the bluff he put on a show. Flapping his wings, hopping off the ground for one or two seconds and preening his feathers for hours. He shed almost all his baby gray feathers with just a few remaining on the back side of his head. He regurgitated his "bolus" of squid beaks and yes, unfortunately some pieces of plastic. 

We tried so hard to witness his big fledge but, in the end, he took flight on his time. In all the years of watching over the albatross we've actually never seen one fledge for the first time. Some moments of nature must remain with nature. 

How did he prepare for his big fledge?

It's hard for us to know all the puzzle pieces he had to align in order to make his big leap. Has he shed enough of his baby feathers? His adult feathers, are they preened and lined up? Are his muscles strong  enough? Is he too heavy? Maybe too light? Should he wait for another squid meal? Are his parents even returning with one? Is the wind strong enough? Is it too strong? Maybe he should wait? Or go?

The ocean is 200 feet below his bluff and the shoreline is rocky...all things to consider, he has never ever flown and has only one chance to get it right. Talk about anticipation/pressure. 

But he did it! At 5 months and 6 days old he took flight for his next adventure, life at sea. His parents were not there and neither were we. He was first to fledge from our colony so all of this season's 12 chicks got to witness his leap. We hope they took good notes. Their fledge clock is ticking.

Since Geronimo took flight four more chicks have followed suit and fledged. We still have eight chicks gearing up for their flight. 

June 2021

How many more squid meals will be needed? Time will tell...

Geronimo is 19 weeks old

Geronimo's hungry belly requires large meals. Time between feedings is at its peak...he is waiting up to 2 weeks for one meal. His parents are currently foraging close to 5000 miles round-trip to deliver just one meal to Geronimo. It's a good thing they are experts in the air, able to fly at speeds of up to 50 mph and navigate with half their brain, while the other half sleeps. 

How do his parents feed? Albatross are surface feeders and their main diet is squid. They primarily feed at night when squid are swimming close to the surface. Since they skim the water's surface with their beak they will also scoop up anything that floats i.e. fish, crustaceans and flying fish eggs.

Albatross and the plastic problem

Unfortunately, because albatross are ocean surface feeders they inadvertently ingest marine rubbish including plastic, which they then feed to their chicks. It is estimated that 5 tons of plastic is accidentally fed to albatross chicks each year. While the effects of plastic on the chicks has not been scientifically proven it is highly probable that the plastic does injure or kill some birds. 

The adult albatross have the ability to regurgitate indigestibles like squid beaks and plastics, however the young chicks do not. It's not until shortly before fledging that the chicks regurgitate their first "bolus" of indigestibles. 

The oldest and best fed chicks could start fledging and taking flight in the next week or two. Geronimo is currently in the running to fledge sooner than later...squid willing so stay tuned!

 

May 2021

The chicks are officially banded

This year Lola was invited to observe the banding process and help record the band IDs for our chicks. 

Two very experienced bird banders, Fia and Cody, with the State Wildlife arrived and had all our chicks banded in under an hour. One bander swiftly picks up and holds the chick against their chest with the chick's legs facing outwards and gently holds their beak closed, no biting please.

Even with the chick's legs kicking like a toddler having a tantrum the second bander ever so quickly fastens a band on each leg. Thirty seconds later the chick back on the ground almost as if nothing happened except they now have new jewelry.

Geronimo at 15 weeks old

The birds don't seem to even noticed the new bands. A plastic auxiliary band goes on the left leg and a metal federal band on the right. The auxiliary band has larger font and can be read with the naked eye or binoculars. Both ID tags are uploaded into the Bird Banding Laboratory database.

At the farm we have our own record of the auxiliary bands for our chicks. This is how we quickly recognized both Blossom and Kai, two of our super stars from years past who were first time returnees this year. 

We are only about 4 to 5 weeks away from the chicks beginning to fledge.


April 2021

Meet Geronimo

We would like to give a huge mahalo to everyone who participated in this year's Name That Chick Contest. Each year we are blown away by the number of entries, this year we received nearly 500 name  suggestions!

Narrowing down to just one name was no easy task, but we felt Chick C was a very fitting name. Imagine this little chick fledging for the first time as it spreads it wings, jumps off the cliff and shouts "Geronimo"!

Congratulations Harald! You'll be receiving not only a noni gift parcel but more importantly bragging rights for 2021. 

Geronimo is now 12 weeks old 

Thanks to the frequent squid deliveries he is growing quickly. When the trade winds blow just right and ruffle his baby fluff we get quick glimpses of his strong white big kid feathers growing in underneath. Soon the adorable gray baby fluff will start to shed.

Geronimo has also been entertained by the enthusiastic dancing and singing of the young adolescents who have returned home, touching land for the very first time in 5 years! 

March 2021

Chick C is our Superstar this year

Our annual Name That Chick Contest is underway. Help us give Cute Chick C a name. Submit your name suggestions by end of day Saturday April 3, 2021. Click here for contest details and entry form

 

Look how big I am 

Chick C is now 8 weeks old and growing in both size and curiosity. 

Mom and Dad must forage greater distances for hefty squid meals. This provides the perfect opportunity for Chick C to sneak out of the nest, explore the bluff and make friends with other chicks. 

Chick C and buddies waddle around their colony building new nests, tugging on low-hanging branches and are ever so fascinated with picking up and tossing sprigs of grass, little pine cones, seed pods, really anything that fits in their little beak. 

Food is always on their mind 

While they may be busy being little explorers they are truly always on the lookout for the return of Mom or Dad with food. 

Most of the albatross coming in for landing are the adolescents but when a parent does arrive it's feet will have barely touched the ground and its chick's "feed me" chirp is already blasting on full volume. A parent always knows which chick is their baby and often will make the chick return to it's original hatch nest before being fed. 

The warm squid meal is delivered (aka regurgitated) and often in 10 minutes time the parent takes off again in search of the next meal. Soon parents will fly thousands of miles just to deliver one meal to their chick. 

Feb 2021

It's a rare sight to see but we were on the bluff at the right time last week and got to witness a Papa bird return to the bluff and meet his newborn chick for the first time. He literally landed and sprint waddled straight to his mate on their nest squeaking in excitement. Needless to say our hearts melted. Photo above of Papa's first greeting. 

Hatching is officially complete!

We have 15 adorable chicks this season. 

Did you know? The chicks have a temporary "egg tooth" on their bill to assist them in hatching. Once the chick makes the first pip or hole to its eggshell it can take 2-3 days to break free and fully hatch. The parent does not physically assist the hatching but plays an endearing role by peering in the egg hole and making encouraging sqeeks and chatter to its baby. The newly hatched chicks spend their first few days nestled under a parent for warmth, only being exposed mere minutes a day for quick feedings.

Mom and Dad will initially alternate responsibility of nest duty and foraging for squid duty. At about 2 weeks old their chick's ever demanding appetite for regurgitated fish eggs and squid will require that both parents forage for meals. The chick will be left solo in its nest finding warmth in the daytime sunshine. Mom and Dad will make round trip flights from their chick to the North Pacific Ocean, basically non-stop for the next 5 months. Talk about having your parents wrapped around your cute little beak. 

Jan 2021 

With the first egg laid back on Nov 24th and an average incubation period of approximately 60 days we are officially in the window of absolute cuteness hatching. 

Over the next couple of weeks the baby chicks will slowly start to emerge from their egg shells. Their little beaks begin to tap tap tap away at their egg until they break free.

The newborn chicks are the cutest balls of fluffy white and gray feathers and will stay nestled under Mom or Dad for warmth and protection for a few weeks time.

This month also marks the return of the juvenile birds aka teenagers. They are back to socialize, court and take notes on what it takes to raise a chick. Although, currently they seem most interested in soaring above the bluff and coming in for some wild crash landings to join impromptu dance parties. 

Their dance is truly one of a kind. They snap their beaks, squeal, honk, tuck their heads under one wing, bob up and down and often throw their beaks straight up to the sky giving out a long honk. 

Dec 2020

Excited to report that our nest count is now 17! Which means 34 birds have reunited and we have at least 6 albatross patiently awaiting their mate or in search of a new one. We've strung up some mistletoe to help things along as we are hoping for a few more nests this season!

Each year in mid December we have a very special day, egg adoption day. Albatross pairs with an infertile egg get a new fertile egg delivered to their nest.This is an amazing program that involves federal, state and private entities. 

Where do these "extra" eggs come from? The Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai's west side is also home to nesting albatross. You can imagine for air traffic safety having these beautiful birds with over 6 foot wing spans soaring in your airspace is of great concern.

Lola was invited by the biologists to assist with this year's egg adoption for our colony. The team visits each nest, gently removes the egg and swiftly candles it inside a dark cloth enclosure...if fertile it's returned to the nest and if infertile the egg is replaced with an "adoption egg". Those birds receiving a new egg happily accept the new egg as if it were their own.

We are happy to report our colony is very healthy and continuing to grow in population each year. Only two eggs were infertile. If the last 30 days of egg incubation goes well we have a great chance of seeing 18 baby chicks this season!

Nov 2020

We are so EXCITED to share this albatross season with you!

The first bird is back! Early morning on Nov 10th we found Manu resting on the bluff under the ironwood pine trees. He's a long time bird of our albatross colony and often one of the first to arrive. We've been greeting him yearly since 2007.

He spent most of the morning napping but proudly stood and supervised our trimming of the shrubs in the albatross take off zone...notice the hedge trimmer laying on the bluff edge?

Fun fact: He is very punctual! In 2017 he was also our first bird back and his arrival date was also Nov 10th!

On Thanksgiving morning we made a fresh batch of Noni Fruit Leather and then we hurried out to check on our friends the albatross. We found our first nest and egg! This means late January we should see our first chicks start hatching!

A Preview of what's to come this season:

November through February 

Early November the adult birds return solo to their nesting grounds. They await their mate and reconnect. We've seen eggs as early as Thanksgiving but typically it's the month of December when each mating pair will lay their one egg.

Average incubation period is 60 days so by very late January and through February the chicks will hatch. Absolute cuteness!

January is also when the juvenile birds (3 to 7 year olds) return for "party season". They sing, dance, start to court and observe the raising of the chicks. You can bet Lola will get amazing videos of their dance offs, no other bird species is this groovy!

 

 

March through July

These 5 months put Mom and Dad to the test. 3000 mile round trip flights for fresh North Pacific squid. All this work just to feed their growing chick. 

March kicks off our annual Name That Chick Contest! Keep an eye out for the contest announcement. 

In July these magnificent, fully grown albatross fledge to their new home for the next 3 to 5 years. They do not touch land and live in the open ocean before returning to Kauai. 

 



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