Our first arrivals are here!!
Early Saturday morning there were two, then three, by mid-week seven and as of today 14.
Who are these majestic sea birds? They are the Laysan albatross. The adult male birds almost always arrive first and patiently await the arrival of their female mate.
She may keep him waiting a day, a week, or even two weeks before she arrives. But when she does her mate is ecstatic. On his feet squealing and bobbing up and down in delight at just the sight of her gliding overhead and finally coming in for landing. Before her webbed feet have touched the ground he is waddling at sprinting speed in her direction! This is the first time they've seen each other in months, since the closure of last nesting season.
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 for the season.
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.
By July the chicks are fully grown and fledge to their new home, the vast North Pacific Ocean. The chicks will spend the next 3 to 5 years living life at sea. They will not touch land and live in the open ocean before returning to Kauai one Spring as a young juvenile.
We are so EXCITED to share this albatross season with you!
We have had an exciting few weeks in the colony. Multiple birds have been arriving daily and reuniting with their mates. We are thrilled to report that we already have 25 nests! This means 25 mating pairs (50 birds) have reunited and laid their one egg for the season. We have veteran nesters, first-time nesters and birds that have been widowed who have after many seasons finally found love in a new mate.
Once a pair reunites they preen each other, snuggle and mate before both taking flight out to sea once again where they will feed. The female will return first, build a nest and lay their egg. She will then incubate the egg until her mate returns. His feeding trip is critical, he will need to gorge on enough squid in order to sustain himself for nest duty. Once he returns and takes his place on the nest his mate will depart for sea to feed and replenish her body. Her feeding trip may last for over a month! Her mate will survive by fasting off the squid in his belly and hydrating from passing rain showers. Truly astonishing!
Egg Adoption Day
Every year in mid December a very special task is completed in our albatross colony - egg candling. An expert team of biologists arrive and we go nest by nest to confirm the fertility and viability of each egg.
One biologist carefully removes the egg from under the nesting bird, hands it off to a second biologist who then swiftly candles the egg inside a wearable dark room.
If the egg is deemed fertile it is returned to the nest and the parent happily settles back down on their egg. Eggs that are not fertile are removed and a fertile "adoptive egg" is returned to the nest in its place. The adoptive egg is almost always immediately accepted by the nesting parent.
Where do these "extra" fertile eggs come from?
The Pacific Missile Range Facility is located on the West side of Kauai. And yes, some albatross have even chosen to nest there, creating a huge air traffic collision hazard. Biologists with the USDA Wildlife Services monitor the birds nesting at that location, removing and then incubating any eggs found to be fertile. These eggs are then re-homed into nests with infertile eggs in protected albatross colonies on the north shores of Kauai and Oahu.
We are beyond grateful for the collaboration of federal, state and private entities that make this egg adoption program possible.
This season only two nesting pairs in our colony had infertile eggs. This is a great improvement from last years seven infertile eggs and is likely attributed to the fact that many of our veteran pairs that took last season off from nesting are nesting this season.
We are about 34 days out from the earliest possible egg hatch for our colony. Absolute cuteness will start hatching late January!
The albatross chicks are hatching! On the morning of Jan 21st we were blessed with the sight of the most adorable ball of feathers and the sound of the softest little peeps. The first chick in our colony had hatched!
Over the next couple of weeks more 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 "pip" is the first little puncture or hole made by the chick to the outside world. It then takes 2 to 3 days for the chick to slowly chip away at its eggshell and fully hatch.
How do they do this? The chicks each have a temporary "egg tooth" on their bill. This is used like a little saw to make their grand entry.
The parent on the nest does not physically assist with the eggshell chipping but lovingly encourages the chick. Peering into the egg pip, gently tapping the eggshell and making soothing chatter to their new offspring.
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.
It's been a hatch party on the bluff! So far 15 of 23 albatross chicks have completed the exhausting task of bursting out of their eggshells. On average it takes a chick about 2 to 3 days to hatch. The days following are spent napping nestled under Mom or Dad and receiving frequent feedings of regurgitated stomach oil.
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.
Hatching is complete! Thrilled to see 21 chicks burst from their eggshells. This season was one of our longest ever for hatches, our first hatch chick is now 6 weeks old and our youngest just 6 days!
The chicks are growing quickly, and almost all chicks, except our youngest two are spending their days and nights solo in their nest. Both Mama and Papa off at sea foraging for squid meals to sustain themselves and their chick. At this age a chick may wait only a couple of days between seeing a parent return with food. As the weeks progress though this time will lengthen to a week, then two weeks and before fledge three to four weeks between meals.
The dance parties have begun
This time of year the juvenile birds (4 to 7 year olds) return to socialize, court and hopefully are taking good 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.
Just yesterday we saw Kai (2016 Name That Chick superstar) and Ruffles (2017 Name That Chick superstar) on the bluff.
We also have our eyes peeled for the band IDs of our 2018 superstar Elvis and 2019 superstar Spike…we have not seen them since they fledged and this Spring may be the year that we see them touch back down on land for the very first time.
Chick D is this year's superstar!
The results were the closest they've ever been, only a handful of votes separated B, C and D. In the end, Chick D pulled off the superstar win. Mahalo to all who submitted name suggestions in our annual Name That Chick Contest. As always we are blown away yet again by all of the fun and creative entries! Our grand family debate has begun to select the winning name for Chick D, stay tuned!
Chick D is 12 weeks old and getting big!
Albatross chicks are unable to forage for their own food and rely solely on their parents for meals. Each parent hunts solo at sea and then returns to deliver a scrumptious smoothie of regurgitated squid directly into their hungry chicks mouth. Chick D is big enough that along with squid smoothie also comes regurgitated chunks of squid and fish.
Larger bulky meals means longer foraging trips for Mom and Dad and up to one week between feedings for Chick D. This provides the perfect opportunity for Chick D to sneak out of the nest, explore the bluff and make friends with other chicks.
Chick D 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.
The albatross singles bar is is winding down
We still have our eyes peeled for the band IDs of our superstar chicks Spike (2019) and Elvis (2018), however the window of possible arrival is closing in just a few weeks.
It’s been a rambunctious party on the bluff this season, sometimes with up to 20 adolescent birds dancing and flirting. This season’s chicks have had no shortage of entertainment while they await their next squid meal from Mom or Dad.
When the juvenile birds are not busy flirting, many take on a babysitter role to the chicks. Sitting guard next to them, making small talk and occasionally chasing off albatross dance parties that get too close to a napping chick. It's quite comical.
We have a very big announcement!
Our superstar has a name and he sure is Lucky!
We would like to say a big mahalo to everyone who participated in this year's Name That Chick Contest. This year we received over 350 name suggestions! We love how much you all love following the albatross with us each season.
After a grand family debate that lasted many family dinners we all agreed Lucky was the perfect name for this season's superstar. He is Lucky and so are all the chicks in the colony, they all just overcame a very challenging first.
For the first time ever, every chick in our colony battled avian pox. Given to them by mosquitos the chicks develop pox lesions on their feet, bills and even over their eyelids which can not only obstruct their vision but in many cases blind them, we always hope just temporarily. There is no known treatment and typically the lesions do heal but it can take many weeks.
As of this week we are beyond relieved to see that all of our chicks are recovering well and every chick now has vision in at least one eye, five were temporarily blinded in both eyes for weeks. We expect full recoveries and no chicks should have their fledge hindered by their bout with pox. Phew, what a stroke of luck! So yes, our superstar is Lucky!
Congratulations Marilyn! You'll be receiving not only a Noni gift parcel but more importantly bragging rights for 2023.
Lucky and friends have their "bling"
Albatross are virtually identical, so how do we know who is who within our colony? The wonderful team with US Fish and Wildlife came last week and all our chicks are sporting their new leg bands aka "bling."
The banding process for each chick is fast. One biologist swiftly picks up and holds the chick and the second biologist smoothly fastens a band on each leg. In 30 seconds the chick is placed back on the ground with their new leg bands.
Banding is the only time the chicks will ever be handled by humans. While the albatross don't need leg bands to keep track of who is who, the bands certainly help us humans.
Fully grown albatross all look identical and many of you always ask us how we know who is who among the teen and adult albatross in our colony. It's their unique ID on their leg band that helps us tell them apart, know who survives at sea and who mates with whom.
Lucky's unique ID number is J124. Lucky is 17 weeks old and is about 5 to 7 weeks from fledge time.
Lucky’s Gender Reveal: Blue or Pink what do you think?
Male and female birds are also identical to the naked eye. In the last decade we have only observed a pair mating a handful of times and only observed an egg being laid twice. Such chance observations are usually our only ah ha moments of a bird’s actual gender.
We had the opportunity to find out Lucky’s gender this season. Clearly the chicks will not be mating or laying eggs for many years to come…so how so? By a feather!
When Lucky was banded the biologists had a momentary opportunity to collect a feather from the belly area and send it off for DNA testing. The results just came back and big drumroll…….Lucky is a BOY!
We have our first fledge of the season!
It has been a busy week in the colony. The first of this season's hatches have been eagerly preparing to take flight for life at sea. Preening their feathers, standing and vigorously flapping their wings and some even daring to catch a little air for a few seconds before quickly aborting flight back to safety on the bluff. Our first hatch of the season took her big flight the morning of June 29th, literally launching off the 200 foot bluff and into her new life at sea in the vast North Pacific Ocean. We hope Lucky was taking good notes as very soon it will be his turn.
July 8th update
Requesting clearance for take off
Air traffic control this is Lucky J124, I am ready for take off and holding on runway Ironwood Tree number 3. Requesting departure due north to abundant squid.
PS... I've never flown before. I've also never foraged for squid, I actually don't know what squid look like but I can smell them. I should be good right?
Air traffic control: Lucky J124 yes you’ll be just fine. We have major runway congestion as all of you seem to think you’re ready for take off…not the case. Standby for clearance.
Of our 18 chicks, three have fledged and 15 are completing their pre-flight checklists, many who are eagerly nearing take off which has caused major congestion on the bluff edge.
What is on Lucky’s pre-flight checklist?
It's hard for us to know all the puzzle pieces Lucky has to align in order to literally launch himself off a 200 foot cliff into the next stage of his life.
We can assume his checklist looks something like this:
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?
If you follow us on Facebook check out this amazing video we captured of the absolute excitement the entire bluff of chicks had when a good rain squall blew in. Click here
July 12th update
A special visit from Mom
Lucky’s Mom arrived but did not immediately look for him or feed him. Instead she took a 40 minute nap about 50 feet away from him. This is often a clue to us that a parent is visiting for the last time before their chick fledges. When she awakened she went to Lucky at the bluffs edge. She sat with him and preened almost all of the remaining gray baby feathers from his head.
Fifteen minutes later she did something we have never ever witnessed.
She took flight from the bluff, circling back to soar directly over Lucky, who stood on the edge. Effortlessly gliding down the bluff, she ventured out to sea for about 100 yards before returning, repeating this enchanting routine for over 5 minutes. Was she demonstrating the joy that awaited Lucky and his buddies on their upcoming adventure at sea? Was she also celebrating a milestone, her very first chick had reached maturity and was prepared to take flight? Needless to say Lucky did not take his eyes off his Mom, and the entire group of chicks on the bluff stood up, completely captivated by her performance.July 16th: Lucky fledges!!
Since his Mom departed we've been checking daily for Lucky's anticipated fledge, but he seemed in no rush to take the leap.
On Sunday evening we arrived to find Lucky on the bluff's edge, flapping his wings against the winds trailing a passing rain squall. Within minutes of our arrival, he marched up the main takeoff runway, turned, and without hesitation leapt into the air, embarking on his grand adventure at sea. We watched and cheered (oh yes there’s video!) as he flew due north, merging into the passing squall and vanishing into the horizon.
He will spend the next 5 years living life at sea, he will not touch land until 2028 when squid willing we will see him return as a young juvenile to this very bluff he hatched.
Lucky was 168 days old. He is his parents' first chick. He was the 7th chick to fledge from the colony this season. Lucky #7!
If you follow us on Facebook go be amazed at the video of Lucky’s big leap and leave him some love in the comments! Watch Lucky fledge video
If you don't have Facebook we also have the video on our YouTube
Our final chick has fledged!
Albatross nesting season 2023 has officially come to a close. Eighteen adorable chicks fledged this season, including this year’s superstar, Lucky! The chicks will spend the next 4 to 7 years living life at sea soaring across the vast North Pacific Ocean. Their cute webbed feet won’t touch land until they return back to this very bluff they hatched as young juveniles ready to find a mate. Safe travels to Lucky and friends, we hope the winds are kind and the squid plentiful!
The albatross nesting bluff will be quiet for two short months and then come early November the adult birds will return once again from life at sea and kick off nesting season 2024. So stay tuned!
We hope you have greatly enjoyed following this season with us! Questions or Comments below :)