Visits to chicks by unrelated adults

Even when their chicks are still in the egg, albatross parents are talking with them.  The whole time the chick is pipping he is communicating with the parent on the nest.  So it is no surprise that when the parents start leaving the chick alone to find food for him, their return from the sea is a time of noisy vocalization by parent and chick.

The parent often makes a 3-note greeting on approaching the nest; to a human with anthropomorphic tendencies it sounds like, “Where’s my chick?”

The chick responds with an excited 2-note,”Mommy!” or “Daddy!”  (WAY too anthropomorphic…)

On Midway, where the albatross nests number in the hundreds of thousands, vocalization is the best way for parents to find their chicks, and for chicks to beg from the right adults.  As chicks get older they start wandering away from the nest, so the parents need a way to find them quickly.    As for the chicks, they could get clobbered asking the wrong parent for a meal.

A chick generally does not vocalize excitedly when a non-parental adult comes by the nest.  Sometimes they appear to be unbothered by the visitor.  I don’t know if this stems from recognition of the adult or if the chick’s personality is the reason for this apparent acceptance.  The chick in this photo did not seem to be upset by the two adults checking him out:

KP943 and K240 visit chick at nest 16

But a chick can actually be hurt by an adult.  Parents of other chicks may act aggressively towards the chick, even attacking him.  I have seen parents go out of their way to visit a chick and peck at him.  I can think of a couple of occasions when I chased one of these adults away from a beleaguered chick.  Some adults who are not parents try to groom chicks and are somewhat clumsy; they may actually poke the little ones or pull on feathers too roughly.

Here is a film of a chick being visited by an adult.  The chick does something I often see, he assumes a defensive posture.

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1 Response to Visits to chicks by unrelated adults

  1. Marilou Knight says:

    The adult almost looks like it wanted to practice feeding. I guess the parents teach the old saying “Don’t take candy from strangers.” It’s amazing how these birds communicate with we other and can identify individuals as “known” or “unknown.” Without that ability, the chicks might not survive and the adults could not guarantee the continuance of their genes.

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