This has been the windiest summer I can remember here. I think the wind contributed to the ease with which 17 of the 20 chicks have fledged. We did not have a nest on the mauka (towards the inland mountains) side of the main road through Princeville, so that was one less worry. The chicks from there have always required help to get safely to a good spot for fledging. Just as albatrosses evolved with no fear of predators, they do not understand the danger of walking across a busy street. In my post from April 18th I talked about the death of the first chick to fledge from the nest on the wrong side of the road. He was 5 years old, and was hit by a car while walking across the street to the area where he had lived as a chick.
This season, most of the chicks either started out with a view of the ocean or moved to areas that had one, and they could feel the ocean winds urging them to leave. They fly into the wind when they fledge, wherever the wind may be coming from, and if there is no wind they will walk. When an albatross chick walks down a road, the sound of his flapping feet can attract the attention of people in the nearby houses. I once watched (and joined) a parade of local residents follow a chick, at a respectful distance, the 2 blocks from his nest to the best bluff for fledging. He walked out there, took a running start, and took off with the confidence of an experienced flyer. I have since learned that the locations of ocean bluffs are not coded into an albatross’s DNA. The fledglings sometimes get lost and need some guidance, especially when the breezes stop and they have no clue about where to go.
On July 11th I received an email from a resident who lives next to the golf course where 2 chicks had fledged and 2 remained. She told me that one of the chicks, A404, had fledged early in the morning. The other was “doing a lot of practicing.” Within an hour, A405 had left as well. She took this photo the morning both birds fledged:
Unfortunately, she missed seeing either one take off. Someone once asked me if I could predict when a chick would fledge. I would pay a very large amount of money to be able to do that. They do not fledge in any particular order, certainly not by age. It was interesting that these 2 birds fledged within an hour of each other. Was the second one inspired by the first one? Who could know?
Here is another photo that she took. In the foreground, you can see A405 with one of his parents. He was fed two days in a row. When I took training to become a volunteer at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, they told us that chicks fledged because the parents stopped feeding them. This chick had his last meal not long before fledging, and I have seen parents return after their chicks have left. It’s like they say, birds don’t always read the book about how they are supposed to behave….