Sometimes people ask me how I can tell the albatrosses apart. The only way any non-albatross can do it is by reading the auxiliary band numbers on the birds’ legs.
Every year the albatross chicks on Kaua’i are banded, along with any unbanded adults that are around during banding. Albatrosses have two leg bands. On one leg is a silver USGS band from the Bird Banding Laboratory. That one is small and is difficult to read from a distance. The other leg has a colored leg band that can be easily read with binoculars. The colors on this “auxiliary band” show where a bird was banded. All of the birds banded on Kaua’i have the same bands except those banded at the PMRF, and they have their own distinct ones so I can easily tell if a bird was banded there.
I have also seen birds who were banded on Oahu, Lehua, and French Frigate Shoals.
When people have a nest on their lawn, I encourage them to name the chick and I keep a record of all of the names. It is always exciting to see a bird I knew as a chick return to Kaua’i.
Last season the birds coming back to Princeville for the first time included one 8-year old, one 6-year old, two 5-year olds and five 4-year olds. I did not see any 3-year olds. As a rule, once the chicks leave the place where they grew up, they will not touch land again until they return to the area they fledged from. Eight years seems like a very long time to be out at sea.