Tuesday June 28, 2016
As you’re no doubt aware if you follow us on social media, our family farm on Kauai neighbors a growing albatross colony. Each year, these birds return to the hillside fronting our farm for the mating season. They’re a very special part of the culture on the farm, reminding us of the importance of family and bringing us lots of joy!
Unfortunately, albatross are birds at risk of extinction, especially if their habitat continues to be destroyed by global climate change! Laysan albatross, the specific species that nests on our farm, have recovered in recent years, changing their endangered status from “vulnerable” to “near-threatened.”
This is extremely encouraging, but there’s a long way to go before these and other albatross species are truly “safe.” Preserving nature’s diversity is a major part of sustainability, and is extremely important to our family so we wanted to give you a little more information about these rare birds.
Risks to the Albatross
Albatross were once hunted for feathers, with the result that many hundreds of thousands were killed in the early 1900s. Today, these albatross are protected on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. But they aren’t out of danger yet.
Albatross are seabirds, which means anything that impacts the ocean impacts them, too. That includes changing temperatures, fish populations, pollution, and fishing techniques used by humans.
In particular, longline fishing and the ingestion of floating plastics kill many birds. Albatross hunt by floating on the top of the water and diving down to grab fish and squid. It’s very easy for them to grab something dangerous by mistake. Parents may even bring home trash to their chicks, mistaking it for food. This has devastating consequences for the health of the chick.
On Midway Atoll in the Pacific, thousands of albatross chicks die each year due to poisoning from plastics, lead, and other human waste.
Albatross on Our Family Farm
The albatross sanctuary on the hillside fronting our farm has been steadily growing for many years. Last year, we had 19 breeding pairs, and this year we had 22. These albatross return to our farm each year without fail, never once confusing us with the Kilauea Wildlife Sanctuary just a bit north of us, where there’s another thriving Laysan albatross colony.
They travel back and forth to from Kauai to the coast of Alaska, where squid their preferred food is abundant. We have no idea how the albatross (including juveniles) all find their way back each year for breeding and courting season. It defies all logic! Once an adult albatross pair lays their egg the two parents take turns flying 6000 miles round trip to Alaska to gorge themselves on squid and refuel their body. And once their chick hatches from its egg and can sit in the nest on its own both parents are flying back to Alaska, feeding on squid and returning to regurgitate it and feed their chick. Quite impressive and dedicated parents!
We’ve done all we can to help protect the colony, including building a fence to keep out invasive predators. Albatross nest on the ground making their eggs and themselves vulnerable. Albatross chicks are pretty helpless from when they hatch (usually mid-February) to when they fledge and take flight for Alaska for the first time, around July.
What We Can Learn About Sustainability
We’ve had our lives dramatically enriched by the presence of the albatross next to our farm, and doing all we can to raise awareness about them and protect their habitat has been extremely rewarding for us. Watching the colony grow each year has become so special to us.
Even if you don’t have an amazing species like the Laysan albatross living on your land, you’re surrounded by endangered species that need your help. In particular, think about your local pollinators. Honeybee populations are in bad shape these days, and they can be helped out a lot just by suburban gardeners planting more flowers and plants they like.
Anytime you take action to preserve habitat, whether by building it, protecting it, or voting to protect it, you’re doing your part to help this planet’s endangered species.
How do you protect nature’s diversity in your life? Let us know in the comments!