Angry birds

Sometimes it’s tough to be a chick, waiting patiently for Mom or Dad to fly home with a tasty meal, and having to put up with the unsolicited attention of those shiftless adult albatrosses pestering a poor little bird who just wants to nap, or work on his own little nest, or just contemplate.

Often the adults will pair up to bother a chick. It may be part of a courtship display, a way of showing the other bird that you know your way around a chick. Tell that to the beleaguered little guy in this film:

This next chick became increasingly irate as one adult resorted to redecorating the nest, throwing bits of debris on the unhappy inhabitant. I think I hear the chick saying, “I’ll poke your eye out!” to one of the intruders.

In both films, and in all of the interactions I have observed, the adult non-nesters rarely get very annoyed by the chick’s anger. Even when the second chick was going for an eye, the adult just moved out of the way. Perhaps they get wound up in the process of finding a mate, or maybe they just like those little ones too much to ever raise a beak to them.

Sometimes a single adult sits near a chick and does not appear to cause any discomfort.

The adult in this photo is the 5-year old brother of the chick. I have found Hilly sitting with his younger sibling on the golf course more than once, and the little one does not seem to mind.

Chick at nest 6 and big brother

Chick at nest 6 and big brother

These are also two siblings. The chick is Enzo, the 5-year old is Niko. I wrote about Niko’s remarkable journey to fledging in my April 16, 2014 post.

Enzo and Niko

Enzo and Niko

I have seen that this literal closeness of a couple’s chicks from different seasons does not always happen. For instance, Hilly’s 4-year old sibling Gaga has also returned to the golf course and sits a distance away from the other two. This brings up another interesting question. Can siblings recognize each other so that as adults they can avoid ending up with a close relative as a mate? What about the albatrosses that are not biological siblings, the descendants of PMRF birds that were raised by Princeville parents back when the egg swap was still taking place here? (See my December 18, 2011 post for information about the egg swap.)

Unlike most birds, Albatrosses have a very good sense of smell. Perhaps this helps them to identify biological siblings. This is another reason for taking good data, to keep track of whether relatives are nesting with each other. So far they have not, at least not the ones whose relationships I have recorded.

Once again my mantra resurfaces: the more I learn about these birds, the less I seem to know about them. Would siblings who share one parent mate with each other? I have not seen that so far. Do they have a scent that a half-sibling could recognize? We may not know if they can actually recognize close relatives and instinctively avoid mating with them, but as years go by we should find answers to some of these questions about mate selection scattered in the trail of data left by the Princeville albatrosses. It is a long, meandering path, with many enticing sidetracks along the way, but it rewards us with an occasional glimpse into the rich details of lives that make an ancient order of birds seem at once so foreign to us, and yet so familiar.

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3 Responses to Angry birds

  1. C H says:

    Great Post Carl

  2. Sandy Cole says:

    SO interesting (as usual!)! By the way, did you ever find out why those three chicks died earlier this year in Princeville?

  3. Thanks for another great post, Cathy. I witnessed 3 adults bothering our chick, Pip, this evening…standing, sometimes sitting, very close, taking little pecks at him/her, and pulling/tossing bits of grass. It was intense enough for Pip to snap back at them several times, though it ended quite peacefully, and no apparent harm done (at least, physically!) 🙂 It’s the first time I’ve seen an extended encounter like that. Fascinating to watch!

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