The second week of fledging it was Peg’s turn to leave. I wrote about Peg on May 27th, she is the chick who was spending time sitting with her 4-year old sibling, Junior. Three days before she fledged, her mother came back and spent the next 2 days sitting about 50 feet away from her. According to my neighbor, Marion, Mom tried over and over to feed her chick, who had moved away from a favorite spot near the house and was sitting at the top of a grassy area that sloped down towards the ocean. Peg was having none of it. She continued to run away from her mother, who finally gave up and flew away.
I often hear people say that chicks leave because the parents stop feeding them, but Peg chose not to eat any more. In order to fledge, the ratio between wing length and body weight must be perfect. Do the chicks have an instinct that tells them that it is time to stop eating? Furthermore, I have seen parents come back to the nest after the chick has fledged. I would assume that they do not know that the chick is gone and have brought him a meal. Why else waste the time and energy to come back here so late in the season? They do not come back now to meet their mates, that happens in November or December. Once again I will repeat one of my albatross mantras, “There is so much that we do not know about these birds.”
My Bush Baby was the next to fledge, and if anybody saw him leave I have not heard about it. I never saw this chick outside of the protection afforded by the overgrown weeds and bushes that surrounded his nest in the rough next to fairway 6. If he tried his wings out, nobody that I know ever saw it. I would bet that he did do some practicing, there are just too many minutes in a day and night to see his every movement.
And so two more albatross disappeared, one who showed all signs of getting ready to fledge, one who I would nominate for “most likely to blend into his environment so you hardly notice he’s there.” Will they both survive life on the Pacific Ocean? If so, when will I see them again? That is what I love most about doing these observations, I get to know them as chicks, they leave here for at least 3 years, usually longer, then I get to see many of them return as adults. Some of them quickly assert their adult personalities. Some blend into the background and observe the older birds to learn albatross etiquette, how to interact with the others, how to make an impression on them and not scare them away. If you saw my film of Tater’s first time back, you will remember that when he tried to display before he had his land legs, he actually fell against the other albatross.
For birds that spend so much of their lives alone out at sea, the days they spend on land trying to meet a mate are just as important to their leading a normal albatross life. It seems to come more easily to some than to others. Every year this admittedly sentimental human feels sorry for some birds because try as they might, they just cannot seem to attract a mate. What is different about them? I do not think we will ever know the answer to that one. It is the nuances of albatross behavior that most intrigue me, the behavioral differences that make them so interesting. That is why I do not mind checking on them every day, the subtleties can only stand out if they are seen against a background of many hours of observing many different birds. And after 9 years of almost daily observation, I can still say, “I never saw an albatross do THAT before!”