New England Seabirds | Wandering Birder | Midway | Albatross | Laysan Albatross


Laysan Albatross

The island truly belongs to the Laysan Albatross from early October until August when the last juvenile leaves for the open sea. Residents from the cable company, navy, and today's service providers learn to live with them in the front yard, the back yard and even along the runway.

The landscaping first introduced by the cable company and maintained today by Phoenix Midway seems to suit the Laysan Albatross.This is a view of the military housing section of the island and as you can see it serves as a nursery for the immature birds (all brown) here shown huddled in the rain. The nursery is also a grand singles bar. The adults you see in this picture and all over the island are unmated adults searching for a mate.

Some estimates place the Midway population at 90% of the surviving population of Laysan Albatross. The Laysan is the most abundant species of Albatross. Midway Refuge is crucial to its survival.
Laysan Albatross goony birds The Singles Bar

Birds born on the island go to sea after the first year and do not return for 3-4 years. They come back as singles and spend time trying to find a lifetime mate. Albatross pairs come together each October on the island, mate and the female lays a single egg. If the egg is lost, the parents return to the sea until next year.

Mature birds without mates may spend a good part of the year on the island trying to establish a pair bond. Once they have a mate, the two select a nest site before returning to the sea for the rest of the year
The mating dance usually begins with bill clapping between the two prospective mates. Sometimes multiple pairs will be dancing in close proximity as shown here. Other times I noticed a pair of birds dancing with a third bird hanging in close as if trying to get in on the action. Laysan Albatross Goony Birds
Laysan Albatross Goony Birds

The dance of the mating Laysan Albatross includes some 25 movements some of which are pictured on this page. The bird on the left is skypointing while the right most bird has tucked its bill under the left wing.
Here both birds are skypointing in unison. Notice the band on the right bird. Not all birds born on the island are banded due to lack of personnel.
Laysan Albatross Goony Birds
Laysan Albatross Goony Birds This pair seems to have found one another. If a true pair bond is formed, the mates will scape out a shallow depression for a nest. They will then go out to sea and return in the fall to lay the first egg.

Birds are about 8 years old when they nest the first time. If a mature bird loses its mate, it will come back to the island as a singles and start trying to find a new mate.
Laysan Albatross Goony birds The Nursery

Its takes two parents to feed a chick. After the chick is a few weeks old, both parents leave it in its nest and go off to sea to find food. Parents may fly as far as Alaska to find food for their chicks.
Notice the proximity of the nest sites. Nest sites are at a premium on the island.
The former military residences are now occupied by employees from the refuge, oceanographic society, and Phoenix Midway which runs the airport and the hospitality facilities. Notice the chick right by the sidewalk. Unfortunately some of the building were painted with lead paint which is now in the sand around the buildings. Chicks swallow the lead and those that nest around the houses rarely survive.
Singles and chicks on the lawn with the satellite disk and a fire hydrant.
While they are gone, the chick must fend for itself while staying near the nest site so that the parents can find it when they return.

When a parent returns, the chick pecks on its bill to stimulate regurgitation. After feeding its own chick, the parents usually goes to a nearby chick and abuses it severely pecking it on the back of the neck. This keeps neighboring chicks from begging for food from the wrong parent.
Laysan Albatross Goony birds
Laysan Albatross Goony Birds

Laysan Albatros and Black-footed Albatross chicks place their bills inside the parent's bill to catch regurgitated food. Unlike Penguins they do not put their whole head into the parent's mouth.

If one parent is lost, the other will continue to try to raise the chick, but that chick will probably not get enough food and won't survive.

The little guy to the right is looking good and starting to get his first white feathers.

On our first two days on the island, a stalled front hung over the area dumping rain which caused flooding of some areas .
Laysan Albatross Goony Birds
Here a wet Laysan chick waits in the nest for the return of a parent with food.

Some 500 Laysan chicks died as a result of the prolonged rain. Some drown when the water flooded their nests. It was especially devastating for the Bonin Petrel chicks when their burrows flooded.
Laysan Albatross Goony Birds
Laysan Albatross Goony Birds Periodically, singles take a little break from the singles scene and fly over the lagoon to rest on the water. There is little food anywhere near the island so after some time the birds are forced to take to the sea to feed. During the feeding flights the birds fly thousands of miles and some range as far north as Alaska.
A military base always has a parade ground and of course the Laysan Albatross love it. It is hard to imagine how the navy held any parades here. Maybe we don't want to know. At any rate today it belongs to the birds.

The white flowered plants you see in many pictures are the garden plant Alyssum. Most likely an escapee from the gardens first established by the Cable company.
Midway Atoll
Laysan Albatross Goony Bird You are not allowed to take even one step off the road on path on the island. This is to protect the Bonin Petrels and Shearwaters that nest in burrows underground.

As you can see, you still get close photos.
Building lights, electric wires, and airplanes pose a hazard for the Albatross. Here a dead bird lies under the airport terminal building probably attracted by the lights. The Friends of Midway are currently raising money to put protective shields over the lights to reduce the number of kills.
Here Cynthia Vanderlip of the Oceanic Society uses the dead bird to display the length of the wings. Notice that she cannot stretch the wings out to their full length.

To prevent airplane strikes all scheduled flights to Midway must land after dark. Aloha Airlines runs one flight a week to the island. Incoming guests deplane and the visitors from the previous week board for the flight back to Honolulu. Don't take a change on missing your flight. Arrive in Honolulu a day early.

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