If you were to walk through my neighborhood yesterday you would have seen four albatrosses. You would have appreciated the poetry that is “albatross,” the beauty, the grace, the pure white feathers, the albatross essence. I see that, but I also recognize individuals, each with a unique personality.
I think everyone who reads this blog has read accounts of albatrosses somewhere, of their lives at sea, their dedication to raising their chicks, the way they can glide with little effort, the chicks’ bold flight into the adult world, all of the aspects of their lives that Carl Safina wrote about so eloquently in “Eye of the Albatross.”
But I observe them every day. I see their individual personalities, I see the social behaviors that cannot be appreciated without knowing something about each albatross.
This is what I saw yesterday.
K065 and KP505
K065 started coming here during the 2010-2011 season. The first couple of seasons she was here a total of 9 days, that’s all. I would love to know if she went to other areas on Kaua’i as well. She traveled to different parts of Princeville, perhaps trying them out to see which she liked best. In 2013-2013 she narrowed it down to my neighborhood and one area of the golf course. She was here on 30 different days. One thing that I have learned in the last 9 years is that the albatrosses are on land more than most people give them credit for.
Last year she met KP505. He is a patriarch in our albatross community, a grandfather. His daughter used to nest less than a block from him, until her mate disappeared last season. Unfortunately, KP505’s mate also did not return to Princeville last year. In December I first saw him sitting with K065, gently grooming her. It is impossible for a human to predict how an individual albatross will approach finding another mate. Some start looking right away, some may take years. Please do not try to interpret that as a measure of how much they cared about their mates, unless you are an albatross. And if you are, bravo for learning how to read. Can you answer a few questions for me?
These are birds and we cannot interpret their behaviors using human emotions as a guide.
He built a nest in bushes next to his favorite yard, the property where he raised chicks with his last mate. Males often seem to be more attached to particular areas than females, more reluctant to move somewhere new. Females started to stop by to visit and he often displayed with them. But when it came to the type of behavior we see most often in a nesting couple, sitting close to each other in mutual grooming sessions, K065 was the one he clearly favored. Generally albatrosses that plan on nesting together the following season develop a routine, meeting each other at one particular location. This is important in an area where views are obstructed by buildings. Once there was a couple who nested in my neighborhood in a different location each year. One year they could not seem to find each other and missed a possible nesting opportunity.
I was happy to see K065 return on November 8th, but surprised to find that she was not waiting for KP505 in the spot where they had spent all of their time together. She moved several backyards away to an area that cannot be seen from the place where they were together last year. Sure enough, when KP505 returned yesterday, he walked straight over to his favorite spot. The two did not see each other. She stayed in her yard while he eventually took off again.
K007 has been coming to Princeville for the last 8 years. She has never found a mate. I have seen her in my neighborhood and on the golf course. She has displayed with a variety of albatrosses, male and female, but she has never found one to nest with.
K407 has been coming to Princeville for as long as I have been collecting data, for 9 years. For all of those years she has been with another female, KP466. Unfortunately, in the 7 years they nested they raised just 2 chicks. The other years they spent many days incubating eggs that were infertile. Their last chick fledged in 2009.
Every year K407 and KP466 would pick a spot where they would meet the following season. They would go to the same spot for at least 10 days and both would return to that place the next year. Last season they had another bad egg, which broke on January 10th. They seemed to have chosen a meeting spot in the bushes in front of a neighbor’s house. KP466 showed up there, but K407 started going to another area. She met a male there and she was with him more often than she was with KP466.
Yesterday K407 was sitting in the area where she had spent time with the male. KP618, still waiting for his mate, tried to get close to her. She immediately jumped up and chased him away, clacking furiously. He fled and did not try again.
This morning KP505 moved to a spot in his yard where he can see more albatrosses, a street corner. Unfortunately, he could not see K065 walking in from the ocean bluff at the end of my street. She was closely followed, much to her annoyance, by KP618. She avoided him as if he were covered in avian pox. He finally got the hint, gave up and walked back to his favorite yard to wait for his mate. She walked back out on the ocean bluff and took off.
KP505 is still waiting on the corner.
Cue the sad music.
Later this morning, 3 albatrosses landed at the end of my street. KP505 could see them coming down, but he stayed in his spot and called to them. I saw KP618 running after KP505’s daughter. She ran away from him across several yards, then ended up across the street from her father. They briefly vocalized, she crossed over, stayed briefly and then went back. He did not follow her. Does he know that they are related? If any albatrosses are reading this, would you please let me know?
She then walked over to an area where she and another female seemed to be competing for the attentions of another male last season.
K065 returned, too, but she never went far from the landing area. I think she may have taken off again.
KP505 is still waiting on the corner.