Nest update

On Saturday we had 8 nests in Princeville.

We now have 32!

I know already that a number of them will not produce a viable chick.  I found an abandoned egg in my neighbor’s yard, not far from where I found one last year.  We have female/female couples who each produce a nonviable egg.  Rarely, one will be jumped by one of the males waiting for his mate to return and she will have a fertilized egg, but Princeville nest areas are so spread out that this is unlikely to happen here.

Some of the nesters are still waiting for their mates to come back.  I live across the street from one, KP505, or Joseph.  I first saw him on November 20th waiting at his favorite spot for his mate to return.  They have raised two chicks together.

505 waiting for K065

505 waiting for K065

Most nesters remain in the same general area from year to year, but often they move around a bit within it.  In the case of my neighborhood, that may mean they choose different yards.  Not Joseph.  He remains faithful to my neighbors’ yard.  And not just anywhere in that yard.  He is steadfast in his choice of the side yard near a line of trees between “his” house and the neighbor’s.

Many mornings I have seen him patrolling this little area, waiting for his mate.  Being a male albatross, he is happy to take advantage of a passing female, but he will be nesting with Mary.  I have never seen a couple nest together without getting to know each other the preceding season.

Sometimes a nester returns later, after the period when couples reunite and begin the whole process of raising a chick.  It may be a way of avoiding the physical  strain that raising a chick can cause to an albatross.  I have a couple that raised 6 chicks in a row, but that is not the norm.  They need time to recuperate, and that varies with each couple.

Joseph has left the area.  I know that the homeowners he shares his property with will be looking out for him and for Mary.

Me too.

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Albatross totals

So far I this season I have seen 58 banded albatrosses.  I have also seen some unbanded ones, but I do not know how many different ones I have seen.

Last year in the same time period I saw 38 banded albatrosses, along with some unbanded ones.

Things are looking good here in Princeville!

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Sad story – part 2

After being attacked by K233 and his new mate, purpleO324 left Princeville.  But first she spent the night less than 20 feet from her former mate and KP465.

I looked back at my data and found that the year before she first mated with K233, purpleO324 was in Princeville on 50 days!  It is an accepted “fact” that an albatross spends a small fraction of time on land, but 50 is close to two months.  That is not 50 days straight, she obviously had to eat occasionally.  She tried different areas of Princeville and associated with a number of birds before finding K233.  In that same year, K233 was here for 33 days.

In their next non-nesting year, 2010-2011, she was here for just 15 days, and K233 was here for 35 days.  They displayed what I call married couple behavior, quiet contact, on 9 days.  She never socialized with other birds, but K233 displayed with other birds on 7 days.

Their next non-nesting year was 2012-2013.  PurpleO324 was here for 9 days, her mate for  21.  They were engaged in quiet contact on 3 days, and he displayed with other birds on 3 days.

Last year, they displayed together on one day, and had quiet contact on another.

K233 also displayed with 4 different birds, but then displayed 4 times with KP465 and had quiet contact with her on 2 other occasions.  That might not sound like an impressive amount of time, but he was with his mate only twice.

It is always tempting to give them attributes we associate with humans, but we really should not judge them when they fail to live up to the expectations we have for people.  So even though I felt terrible when I saw the blood on purpleO324’s bill, and saw how isolated she was from her former mate, I am not going to judge K233 the way I would judge Homo sapiens.  They are birds, that’s a pretty good excuse.





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Sad story – part 1

I talked about K233 in my last post.  He and his mate, purpleO324, have been together since the 2009-2010 season, and have raised 4 chicks together.

Last season, they did not have an egg.

If I ever run a marriage counseling office for albatrosses, one of my first rules will be, “In seasons when you are not nesting, make a point of coming back to your home base frequently; work on keeping your relationship with your mate strong.”

Last season, K233 came back on November 18th.  He waited alone for 4 days, then purpleO324 returned, and they displayed together.  They were together on only one more day, and she was here for another 2 days on her own.

But another female, KP465, spent a total of 41 days in Princeville, and K233 was here for 29.  They spent at least 5 of their days here together, either displaying or gently grooming each other.  That was enough to convince K233 to end his partnership with purpleO324.

My neighbor saw two birds in her yard attacking another, and she said the third bird was bleeding.  I got my camera and went over to see.

What happened?

What happened?

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The albatross soap opera begins….

As of yesterday, there were 4 albatrosses in Princeville.  I told you about KP400.  The others live down the block from me.

I watched K233 get banded by Brenda Zaun, USFWS wildlife biologist, in 2007.  Since he was unbanded, nothing is known about where he came from or how old he is.  His mate, purpleO324, was originally banded on Whale-Skate Island in French Frigate Shoals in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands in June of 1989.  Then she was rebanded by Lindsay Young at the albatross colony at Kaena Point, Oahu.  By the late 1990s, Whale-Skate Island was completely submerged, thanks to the rising sea level associated with climate change, so this albatross could not return to her original home if she wanted to.  She first came to Princeville in 2008.  She and K233 started spending time together.

K233 talking to himself

K233 talking to himself

They first nested in the 2009-2010 season, and raised a healthy chick.  They have raised 3 more since then.

The other two males that returned were sitting about 10 feet away from each other.  If they were people, this part of the story would be a soap opera.  To make this a bit easier, I am going to give them names.  KP424 will be Bob, KP531 is Steve, KP467 is Mary and K112/A478 is Ann.

When I first started to observe, Steve and Mary were a couple.  In fact, they successfully raised 6 chicks in a row, which is quite an accomplishment.  The following season, 2010-2011, Mary laid an egg but she would not sit on it, and neither would Steve.  Perhaps they knew if was time for a rest.  During this season, Mary was in Princeville for 25 days; Steve was here for 50.  During those 50 days, he spent some time with Mary, but he was also displaying with other females.  In fact, he came to know Ann during this time, and they engaged in the quiet contact I associate with nesting couples.

In the 2011-2012 season, both Mary and Ann laid eggs, and I would assume that Steve had fathered them both.  He had to decide which egg he would help incubate, and he picked Ann’s.  Mary had to leave her egg eventually, and it never had a chance to develop.

I wrote about Steve and Ann’s relationship in my blog post of January 6, 2015, so I will not repeat that.  It is another episode of the albatross soap opera.

And what happened to Mary after Steve left her for Ann?  She met Bob.

Bob nested in Princeville in the 1993-1994 season.  I have never seen an albatross younger than 5 nest, so he is probably at least 28 years old.  Since at least 2005, he was nesting at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.  But every year he stopped first in Princeville, staying here for 2 to 10 days before flying to the refuge to nest with his partner.

His partner eventually failed to return to the refuge, and Bob relocated to Princeville.  In the 2012-2013 season, he spent many quality hours here with Mary, now on her own after Steve left her.  Bob and Mary nested in the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 seasons and raised two chicks together.  They came back last season, but did not nest.  However, they did spend time together here, and I saw them displaying together and sitting quietly grooming each other.

If Bob and Steve were humans, they would probably not be as likely to share my neighbor’s back yard.

This is why I must observe them every day.  Their lives are rich in variation and filled with surprises.  As I always say, the more I learn about them the less I “know.”  They always  challenge what I think I understand about them and keep me interested enough to keep trying to figure out what it is to be an albatross.




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First albatross returns to Princeville

KP400 is always one of the first albatross residents to return to Princeville, after several months of fattening up on all the ocean goodies, perhaps flying as far north as Alaska.

KP400 - First albatross to return to Princeville

KP400 – First albatross to return to Princeville

He was raised in the same neighborhood that he returns to every year.  He fledged in 2003, then first returned in 2007.  In 2009 he nested with K206, and they raised three chicks together.  Sadly, his mate did not return in the 2013-2014 season, but he met another female, bluKP216, and they nested together the following two seasons.

In both seasons, this couple had a fertilized egg that did not result in a chick.  Both of them incubated these eggs faithfully.  Let us hope that this year they are able to raise a healthy young one.  KP400 was a devoted father, and judging by his mate’s ready acceptance of incubation duties, she should be a superb mother.

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Article about Princeville albatrosses

I was interviewed by a Princeville homeowner and writer, Mary Ann Colihan, for the July/August issue of the Troon Golf & Travel digital magazine.  The story is about the albatrosses who nest on the Makai Golf Course.  If you would like to read about them, please check it out.

article in Troon Golf & Travel eMagazine

I took this photo of Manu, the last chick left in Princeville.  His mother had returned to feed him, and in the photo he is just beginning to tap on her bill to beg her for food.

Manu and Mom

Manu and Mom


You have probably noticed the baby feathers adorning the heads of the chicks.  Many still has most of his left, but as they lose them they sometimes end up looking like “Three Stooges” characters, or like Bozo the Clown or Harpo Marx.  Notice Mom’s head feathers.  The nesters all show molting on their heads at this time of year.  You may also see a black spot on her head.  That is one of the ectoparasites that inhabit the bodies of albatrosses, either a louse or a flat fly.  I read that the waved albatross, which lives in the Galapagos Islands, is critically endangered, and that the louse that is only found on that bird is critically co-endangered, a new expression for me.  Why would this matter?  Who really cares if a louse is endangered?  Ew, gross!

For anyone who might find this topic interesting (and as a founding member of the Slug Appreciation Society comprised of some of the odder Los Angeles Zoo docents,  I am afraid that I count myself in that weird little group) please read this short article from ACAP, the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels.  You can follow a link to an article in Oryx that is actually quite fascinating, in a lousy, parasitic sort of way.

Feeling a little lousy

The ACAP website, by the way, has short articles about the latest research related to albatrosses.

And if you think parasites are quite fascinating, check out the book Parasite Rex, Inside the World of Nature’s Most Dangerous Creatures, by Carl Zimmer.  It is a world most people are happily unaware of, with life forms much more terrifying than than any old prehistoric dinosaur.

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