A few days ago I watched a five-year old male albatross who was trying desperately to touch a 3-day old chick.
Before I started to observe them, I would not have expected to see birds doing this, this is a behavior typical of primates. I have seen parent albatrosses actually try to hurt the chicks of other birds, but non-related albatrosses will sometimes groom the little ones and even sit with them when their parents are not around. Sometimes, I think, it may be a way of showing other albatrosses that they know how to handle chicks. That is strictly a guess, maybe they just genuinely enjoy sitting with the chicks, who knows?
Sometimes the adult albatrosses get a bit rough with the chicks and the grooming becomes over-zealous, so the parents usually try to discourage their company.
Watch this video twice. The first time, concentrate on the two adults. The one on the right is a 5-year old, Maluhia, and the parent is K454, a bird who has not nested before in Princeville. Maluhia is a young bird who is still trying to get his act together. He thinks that fake-grooming the parent will give him access to the chick, but the older bird is wise to him. It doesn’t take much to make Maluhia leave, just one quick jab, one that didn’t even connect with the target. At the end of the tape you will hear Maluhia make a sound that is called a “sky moo.” Sometimes albatrosses make a sky moo as part of the courtship display, sometimes it sounds like “Woe is me!”
Then replay this tape and watch the chick. Remember, the chick is just 3 days old. At about 15 seconds into the video, the chick does the albatross equivalent of taking a swing at Maluhia, the quick beak jab. After that, when Maluhia gets too close, the chick assumes what I call “the defensive posture.” When the parents start to leave their young ones alone so they can feed their burgeoning appetites, the chicks need to learn to protect themselves from other albatrosses. Eyes are a vulnerable spot, and the chicks will move their heads to the side and then down, protecting them from harm.
Remember, albatrosses evolved without the presence of domestic dogs and cats, so turning the head to the side will not offer much protection from those predators. Please keep your pets away from these birds!