The Magnificent Laysan Albatross

January 2022 Kauai trip Part 5. No, no! Can’t leave Kauai yet! It’s so hard to say goodbye to the incredible sea birds that return to the north shore of Kauai every year to mate and breed and raise their young. The Laysan albatross arrive in November from as far north as Alaska and the Arctic to begin their 9-month mating and breeding season. Whereas, the majority of the world’s Laysan albatrosses live on Midway and other small islands around no humans at all, during the past 50 years several hundred nesting pairs have established their breeding grounds in Kauai. Many of them return to the National Wildlife Refuge at Kilauea Point. A few pairs have built nests in already-established residential neighborhoods in Princeville, scratched out their 3-foot wide, shallow nests on the ground, in grassy front yards, under people’s shrubbery. It’s a hoot to be walking in a neighborhood and see an Albatross sitting on a nest near someone’s front porch. Do they have a dog?? A cat? How does that nest survive?

I’ve fallen in love with the albatross, learning more about them each year we visit Kauai. I couldn’t wait to see them this year, witness their crazy elaborate mating displays, their awkward wobble on land; watch them take off in a little run to launch into flight, then soar overhead. We stay with my sister Stephanie and husband Victor on our 10-day visits every year, and they have a perfect location for albatross watching – on a golf course built on a bluff overlooking the Pacific. Except the golf course is closed for extensive repairs after a huge storm several years back. There are three albatrosses sitting on nests just on their street. A close friend and neighbor has a nesting albatross at the end of her front porch. Well, it is a front porch, and so, well, just walk to the end of the porch, point your camera down, and capture a photo. I did it quickly and told her (him?) thank you for sharing your life experience with me!

That white corner is the porch railing!

Our second afternoon in Kauai I took a walk on a golf cart path behind the private residences and heard this big racket. Three albatrosses having a patio party, near a bedroom window of someone’s home, hey, we’re taking a nap here, please stop disturbing the neighborhood! I took a video:

Don’t wake up the person in the next room playing this video!

All of the birds without mates will participate in elaborate mating displays that include a piercing whistle, a loud rapid clacking of beaks, bobbing, pointing their neck straight up and placing their head under their wing. Hey, they are picking a mate for life! Laysan albatross don’t mate until they are 8-9 years old. But then, the oldest known bird on earth is a 70 (71?)-yr-old albatross named Wisdom, on Midway Island. Here is a link to Wisdom. She gave birth to her 40th chick in 2021 (at 70 years of age!):

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/mar/05/wisdom-the-albatross-the-worlds-oldest-known-wild-bird-has-another-chick-at-age-70

That article is 11 months old – written last March, maybe we will hear an update this year – At age 72 did she birth yet another chick?

The couples are extremely committed to each other.

They build a nest about a yard wide and 2″ deep and by the end of November, have likely laid one egg. That egg has a 50 per cent of being viable, but both parents take turns sitting on it for the 60-65-day incubation period. One parent will roost while the other goes on foraging trips lasting up to 17 days, flying as far as 1600 miles over the ocean, landing on the ocean’s surface and plunging with its beak to capture squid, fish eggs and crustaceans, and of course, sometimes plastics, which are lethal to the birds. The foraging parent returns to the nest and takes over the roosting and frees the other to forage.

Meanwhile the single birds are busy, busy! One afternoon I heard them out on the golf course. I shot out the back door of the house. A group of them had gathered about 3 houses down right in the middle of the course. A meet up? Speed dating? The group started with four, then five, then, well, I was taking a video, zooming in from a distance, when number eight arrived.

Oh boy, now Charlie has arrived, further complicating this social situation

One by one they each take flight. They run into the wind to launch their bulky bodies

Until finally there’s one left. She (He?) wobbles toward the edge of the course and takes flight.

Just seems like it’s a ‘she’

There are several albatrosses nesting in a neighborhood near Sea Lodge Beach and if you visit there you might see nine or ten.

Mr. Big Stuff checking out the scene

I have several fantastic links about albatrosses to share with you. First of all, a fascinating YouTube video by Robert Waid will take you through the whole breeding season in Princeville from the moment the albatross return in November to when the chicks fledge in July.

That YouTube video is embedded in this web site: http://www.albatrosskauai.com

– Written by Bob Waid who lived with his wife on the North Shore of Kauai From 1998 to June, 2016. Their home was located in a neighborhood which has been chosen by the albatross as home.

Another Princeville local, Cathy Granholm, kept a running blog containing news about the Laysan albatrosses in Princeville. Really fun! Here’s the link: https://albatrossdiary.com

Meanwhile, back to our trip, the last day of our visit, Saturday, January 29, big news came from the neighbor’s house three doors down. The chick had hatched! She took photos off her front porch.

The parents will stay with the chick for two weeks, and then both of them will leave the chick alone in the nest while they forage for food. One parent will return every 4-7 days to feed the chick. The chick will remain in the nest for about 165 days, while it develops into adult size. It will wander a bit off the nest to exercise its wings as it prepares to fledge. In late June or July, the time to fledge has arrived. The adult sized chick finds a path to a 15-story bluff overlooking the ocean. Then runs and jumps off and takes flight for the first time. It heads out to sea where it will remain for 3-4 years, never even touching land.

After three or four years at sea, the same albatross will return to its place of birth (imprinted on its brain) and begin to socialize with its peers and engage in the elaborate mating dances over the next 5 years. The albatross return every November and eventually choose a mate by the age of 8 or 9.

Albatross are able to fly over 2000 miles in a single stretch through a process called dynamic soaring and can stay at sea for up to 5 years without touching land. They sleep on the water. No wonder they look so awkward on land.

Such incredible birds!

Meanwhile back here in southeast Idaho we’ve just shoveled ourselves out. Here’s the view outside our front door this morning.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Yeah, well the salmon don’t start returning till May.

Do you really think I’m ready to leave Kauai?

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2 Responses to “The Magnificent Laysan Albatross”

  1. dlc Says:

    So this is where you’ve been the last couple of days. Well done.

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