People sometimes ask me why I leave abandoned eggs in the nest. Yes, it may be a waste of an albatross’s time time to come back and sit on that cold egg again. But it does seem to be part of the process, an important aspect of being an albatross. More than once I have seen an albatross return to the abandoned egg and sit on it again. Sometimes the partner will come back to renew the incubation process.
Birds with no apparent connection to an egg may use it as part of a display. Last year I filmed two albatrosses at a nest with an abandoned egg, and included the video in the December 15, 2011 blog entry. One of the birds was drawn to the egg, the other was interested in both the egg and in the other albatross.
At the moment I have three nests that were abandoned but that are being visited by their builders.
In my last post about signs, I mentioned one bird who had laid her egg close to the golf cart path. I put up signs to warn people not to stay next to KP403 because she was a first time nester and I was afraid that she might abandon the egg if people stood next to her nest too much. She did abandon her egg. She laid the egg on December 3rd and left it by the afternoon of December 5th.
Then her mate, KP894, returned to the nest and by December 12th she had laid an egg a few inches from KP403’s. She sat on that egg until December 25th or 26th.
But the story does not end there. On December 28th, I found KP403 sitting on KP894’s egg. As of yesterday, January 2nd, she was still there. On December 20th, KP894 briefly sat beside KP403 at the nest, but she has since left the area.
Both of these birds are first time nesters. KP403 fledged from a nest in my neighborhood in 2003. I remember KP894 as a chick. In 2004, she hatched in a nest about 50 feet from where she laid her egg this year. It is not unusual for inexperienced nesters to abandon their nest. One couple abandoned their nest 2 years in a row but have raised two healthy chicks since then. I wish I knew what triggered them to leave their eggs, so I could try to prevent it from happening with other albatrosses, but I honestly have no idea.
Nest number two belonged to two females who have had 2-egg nests in the past, but had just one egg this year. KP753 sat on the egg for the first 11 days. K672 sat on it for 3 days, then abandoned it. Five days later, I saw K672 in the area and she was limping a bit. I immediately thought of another nest some years ago that was deserted by a parent that was limping. Was it uncomfortable for the bird to sit on the egg with the injured leg? Was the instinct for her own survival stronger than the instinct to incubate the egg? I have also seen a bird with a leg injury who remained nesting, and that bird could hardly stand up. This is the kind of question we simply cannot answer with our human minds. We are too far removed from the world of instinct.
I also had two females who each built a separate nest a few feet away from each other and laid an egg. One is a PMRF bird, P061, the other is KP784, who used to nest with another bird who did not return last year. When P061 left her egg, KP784 abandoned her nest and went and sat on P061’s egg. This is a very unusual occurrence, a female abandoning her own egg to move to her partner’s nest and sit on that one. To make this even more interesting, when I checked these nests yesterday, I found that KP784 had left, but P061 was not sitting on that egg, she was sitting on the egg KP784 had abandoned 25 days earlier when she went to sit on P061’s egg. It must have been very cold. Please someone, tell me why she did that.
Instinct governs their lives, but there are also personality traits that must cause some of the differences in behavior. The more I observe them, the more variations I see as they cope with their albatross world, which is really where they live, and with the human world surrounding them, which they usually treat as a minor annoyance. One of my goals in writing this blog is to help people to see that for us to impose ourselves on the albatross world is much less satisfying than moving back a ways and just observing a bit of the avian one.