I have seen albatrosses abandon their eggs but I have never seen one refuse to take care of a chick. There is something about a baby that is irresistible to an albatross. When a parent comes home to the nest and the chick has hatched or is in the process of pipping out of the egg, the nester often refuses to budge, eventually doing so only after unrelenting prodding from the returning parent.
Raising a chick is a full time job for two; when I think of parental devotion there are few that compare to a bird who raised his chick alone a few years ago.
He and his mate had raised chicks before, and this season began as usual with both parents taking turns incubating the egg. The female left when the male returned to the nest 21 days before the chick hatched; I never saw her again and I presume she died. The chick hatched in four days and then the father spent another 14 days sitting on him to keep him warm until the baby’s body temperature stayed at a safe, constant level.
The father then followed the typical pattern of albatross parents, gradually spending more and more time away from the chick. During all of this time he fed his baby with no help from a mate. Raising a chick is a difficult job for two parents, and an almost impossible task for one. He had to work twice as hard as other albatrosses but the chick seemed to be thriving under this care.
I could not believe that as albatross could raise a baby alone and I asked Brenda Zaun, the USFWS biologist who knew more about albatrosses than anyone else in Kauai to check on the chick for me. Amazingly, it turned out he was the poster child for albatross health, and he fledged at the end of July.
Every day now I see albatross fathers shouldering their parental duties.
This dad is giving his chick a bit of encouragement. He did not help his chick break through the shell, but they had a nice conversation as work progressed.
Sometimes a father has to give his chick a good cleaning up, even if he must delay cleaning himself.
When I arrived at this nest, the father was standing over his growing chick and taking a break from trying to keep his large baby covered. When Dad saw me, he immediately started positioning himself to protect his chick.
But Big Boy (or Big Girl) was having none of it. The chick was not quite big enough to wriggle all the way out from under Dad, but at least he could breathe a bit of fresh air.
Did it bother me that Dad felt he had to protect his chick from me? I am happy that he is acting instinctively to shelter his little one from possible harm.
That is his job as an albatross dad, and I never tire of seeing it performed with such devotion.