So you think you can display….

I live in a neighborhood where about half of the albatross nests in Princeville are located. At times I can hear adults displaying, both during the day and at night.  Somehow this ritual helps them to choose a mate.  For a long-lived bird who must depend on the mate to share incubation, chick-guarding and feeding duties, this is a critical choice.  They scream, whinny, moo, whistle, clabber and honk.  The singing becomes more frenzied as the display continues.  The groupings of birds change, with individuals joining and leaving groups.  Occasionally someone is chased away from a group; I have no idea why.  As the season progresses I start to see couples displaying alone and repeatedly, with noticeably more synchrony than they showed at the beginning.  Then I will often see them progress to the “quiet contact” stage, where they sit close to each other, often grooming the partner’s face.  Odds are this couple will nest together the following year or the one after.

Some of these birds are juveniles who are too young to nest or who are old enough but have not found a partner yet.  Some are of unknown age, birds who were banded as adults and were assumed to be at least 3 at that time.   Some are birds who have lost their mates.  The more I observe them, the more I see that there are clearly birds who would win the “So You Think You Can Display” contest and the ones that the judges would ridicule mercilessly.

So watch this short clip of 4 birds displaying and you be the judge.  You may notice the chick in the background.  Chicks are magnets for adult albatrosses, they love to hang out near them.  This chick tired of the displaying, eventually he started snapping at any adult who ventured near.

I dedicate this film to albatrosses like the guy in the back on the right side, who keeps looking at the coordinated couple in the foreground to see if he can learn the moves from them.  He doesn’t really get it, he’s got two left feet; he can’t even do a proper “sky moo,” when the skilled birds point their bills into the air and utter a soft, cow-like sound.

I would also like to dedicate this to all human beings who have ever ventured out onto the dance floor and suddenly realized that they have made a horrible mistake.

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