Albatross chicks start to leave their nests as they become more physically coordinated. They rarely go very far, and they are almost always within sight of the nest. Sometimes they are moving to a shady area, away from a nest that is always in the sun. I still do not know why some parents choose full, all-day sunlight for a spot to sit in for days on end, particularly when they are used to flying through wet, cold skies. The chicks usually build a nest in the new location, often flimsier than the one built by the parents. When it is time for them to catch their own food, this practice at using their bills for manipulating bits of nesting material will validate all of their building attempts.
A parent who has flown in with a meal will vocalize upon landing. It sounds like three descending notes, “Eh, Eh, Eh.” Translation: “Where’s my chick?” When the chick hears that he will usually run to the parent with an excited 2-note response, also descending, that sounds to my human ear like the albatross version of “Daddy!” or “Mommy!” On Midway, where the nests number in the hundreds of thousands, this vocalization is most important for parents and children to locate each other. In Princeville the parent can usually see the chick, but occasionally the little one moves a bit further afield and the vocalization is necessary for the speedy reunion of parent and child.
There are also chicks who have not read the albatross rules book and will insist that the parents join them in their new digs. A couple of seasons ago Lanea moved next door to her nest yard and sat on a tree stump, and would not come when called. She did not miss out on her meals, the parents rewrote that chapter and started to join her.
CJ never really went very far from his original nest. He had two favorite spots, one within sight of the nest, one a few feet over on the neighbors’ lawn. He occasionally tried out his wings when it was windy. He would wait until I was walking my dog near by and did not have my camera with me; it was uncanny how he could time his practice sessions. A couple of times I managed to come equipped for photos, but by the time I got got my camera out he would be sitting calmly in one of his favorite places, assuming the I’ll-never-fledge position.
One morning he seemed to be very restless, trying his wings out on his lawn, right in front of me, then walking all over the place. He was leaving his safety zone, which precedes fledging. I saw him walk out to the ocean bluff.
For two hours he was out there. A few times he tried out his wings, it was windy enough for a takeoff. Then he would sit down and contemplate. I waited patiently for him to soar into the sky, inspiring everyone with his grace and fearlessness. Instead, he sat. And sat. And sat a little more.
Finally he stood up and walked back out to the lawn he liked to sit on. I spent the next four hours or so checking on him at regular intervals. My day was ruined, he showed no interest in trying his wings again until later in the afternoon. By that time he had made up his mind. He was not going to wait another day to start his new pelagic life.
Here’s hoping we see him back here in a few years. With any luck he will make his first landing somewhere in Princeville. If so, I just may see him wobbling around on his sea legs, or I may get a call about an injured albatross who is having difficulty standing. There is no greater reward for my hours of observation than to share those first moments back on land, to remember the funny little lint ball that turned into a more serious but still somewhat clumsy copy of an adult. Who says I have to be one hundred percent scientific and objective when I write about these birds?