It was February 2nd. I had just checked on a nest where KP943, the mother bird, was sitting on her newly hatched chick. The father of this chick is KP944. The parents’ band numbers are just one digit apart because they were banded as chicks on the same day in 2005, in nests that were in neighboring yards.
943 and 944 had their first chick 2 years ago. They were both naturals at parenthood. In my post on May 26, 2013, I wrote about how one of them was able to get their chick, temporarily blinded by avian pox, to find his parent’s bill and thus get some nourishment.
As I walked down the street, an albatross landed near me. It was KP944, returning to see his chick for the first time. I ran to the nest and waited for him to make his way there. In this clip he is being greeted by his mate, but she is not immediately standing up so he can see the chick. When the chicks are newly hatched, the parents seem to be very reluctant to leave them. The return of her mate meant that it was her turn to fly out to sea to hunt for more food.
943 finally stands to let her mate see the tiny chick.
Mom does not want to leave! She gently guides Dad’s bill away from the chick, as though that might prevent him from making her move off of the nest. At the end of the clip, both parents are touching the little one, who is reeling a bit from all of the attention.
Dad nibbles the chick affectionately, then tries non-stop to sit on his chick, striving to position himself so the chick will be sitting under his brood patch, a warm area of skin on his lower abdomen. Mom is sitting so close to the chick that Dad cannot place himself in just the right spot.
Dad finally figures out how to claim his spot on the chick. Mom reluctantly walks away from the nest, after pausing to exercise her wings. She returns to the chick for one last look before heading out to sea to find food for him.
This unwillingness of the parents to leave their newly hatched chicks does not appear to make sense in terms of the survival of the species. The chick needs nourishment, and it is the parent’s job to leave the nest as soon as the mate has returned and to fly out to the ocean to look for food. Possibly this reluctance to go helps to solidify a bond that will inspire parental care in the future. As the chick’s appetite increases, parents will spend less time at the nest and more hours acquiring food. The ratio of hard work to relaxation at the nest expands exponentially. Even an observer who frequently checks the nests feels very fortunate to spot a parent. If humans are excited to see a parent return, imagine how the chick must feel. Perhaps all of the hours parents spent with that little chick at the beginning of the feeding cycle reinforce the instinct that pulls parents out to sea for days at a time, then drives them home to the nest. All for a goofy little fuzz ball oblivious to danger, sitting out in the scary world for all to see, depending without knowing it on the kindness of strangers.
Thanks go to all the strangers who watch out for these little ones, who ask people to move back and give a chick some space, who remind dog-owners that there is a leash law on this island, who escort fearless seabirds as they walk across a busy street, who generally take on the responsibility of helping to ensure the continuation of an ancient cycle that we all hope will outlive us.
The albatrosses may not appreciate you, but you are all heroes in this story.
For those of you who can’t get enough of all things albatross, the full 14 minute film is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrxKzDn95is .