I usually see the first albatross in Princeville in the second week of November. Most often the nesters return first, usually the males precede the females. Sometimes the males jump females other than their mates; this is how female/female couples end up with fertilized eggs. Couples meet, copulate and usually both then leave the area and return about a week later, at which time the nest is built and an egg is laid. Sometimes a nest is built around the egg. Sometimes an egg that will be abandoned is laid on bare ground. In the case of a female/female couple another egg may be laid in the next few days.
For the last two years, the youngest chick has belonged to the same Princeville couple, K063 and K164. Birds with K### bands were banded starting in 2007. These two were banded as adults in 2007 so they were at least 3 years old then. We cannot tell the age of an albatross by looking at him, and we assume an adult comes back to land 3 years or more after fledging as a chick.
I recorded these two birds being near each other, displaying with each other or in quiet contact with each other starting in the 2007-2008 season, and continuing their association into 2008-2009 and 2009-2010. Every time I saw them together they were on the Oceans golf course, in the same general area. In 2009-2010 I saw them together so often that I guessed that they would be nesting together the following year.
In 2010 K063 and K164 were the last nesting couple to get together, on December 2nd. The egg was laid December 10th and hatched February 15th, a week after the previous egg hatched. The chick was the 7th out of 10 chicks to fledge from Princeville.
In 2011 they were again the last nesters to meet up with each other, on December 7th. The egg was laid December 19th and hatched February 21st, 9 days after the next youngest chick hatched.
The parents of the other chicks are away most of the time now, finding food for themselves and for their growing offspring. All of the chicks look plump and healthy.
The parents of the youngest chick spend more time with him than the other parents do with their chicks. I took this photo of K164 with the chick on March 12th:
Not long after I took this photo, K164 got up and walked behind the nest, at least 50 feet away. The chick could not see his parent because there is vegetation behind the nest. K164 would stop and look back, then continue walking. After I had checked other nests in the area I went back and saw K164 walk back to the nest and stand next to the chick. The chick was alone later.
This type of parental behavior often precedes leaving the chick alone. It appears as though the parent is testing the chick to see how he reacts to being left by himself. The chicks are always quite calm about this, at least the ones I have seen in this scenario. Leaving the chick and walking where the chick can’t see the parent is often preceded on other days by the parent moving away from the nest but remaining in sight. Sometimes the chick will follow the parent, but most often at this stage they remain in the nest.
This behavior may be an adaptation for birds who may have to spend days or even weeks at sea looking for food. If the birds live in a crowded habitat like Midway, the parents must be able to find their chicks quickly after returning from the ocean. A wandering chick could lose a meal, and every bit of food they get from their parents is important.
I urge everyone in Princeville and in any other place where albatrosses nest, please do not get close to these chicks. We all want the little albatrosses to feel totally safe wherever they are, they do not need to have us giants standing close to them. Their parents teach them by example to be wary of humans, to see people as a potential threat. That’s a good thing; not every human is benign. If you want to take a photograph, please use a telephoto lens and stand far away if you truly care about them.