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Wilson's Storm-petrel 

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Midway Atoll

Albatrosses

 


 

 

 

Midway Atoll NWR

Laysan Albatross

Diomedea immutabilis.

Phoebastria immutabilis

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Head of Laysan Albatross

Laysan Albatross

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 National Wildlife Refuge is crucial to its survival. as a species.

Home of the Laysan Albatross
The island truly belongs to the Laysan Albatross from early October when the first breeding adults return 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.

Our plane arrived about 9 PM and even in the dark the drive to our room in what used to be the officers quarters was a birding experience. We saw hundreds of Laysan Albatross lining the air strip and the island roads.  At night we went to sleep listening to the clacking sounds of their mating dance and woke up again in the morning to the same noise

Laysan Albatross on lawn in rain
Midway Atoll old Navy parade ground

The landscaping first introduced by the cable company and maintained today by NWR seems to suit the Laysan Albatross. They like short grass for dancing and nesting. 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. (above)

The Navy required a parade ground which served also as a golf course.  Now with the Navy gone, the Albatross have claimed it all.

The chicks that fledge will roam the sea alone for several years.After which they will return to their natal island and begin the search for a suitable mate.

The nursery is also a grand singles bar for these unmated juveniles. The adults you see in this picture and all over the island are unmated adults searching for a mate. 

By April the adult parents are leaving their chick alone on the island while both parents go to sea searching for food. The adults will fly as far as Alaska searching for food.

The adults you see dancing in this photograph have no relation to the nearby chick and in fact if a parents should chance to come back with food for the chick it will first chase these dancing singles away.

The bird on the left is performing a dance moved called "preen under the wing."  You can see that the bird lifts its wings and puts his head under one wing. Only the Laysan performs this move.

 

 

Singles Bar

The bird on the left is performing a dance moved called "preen under the wing."  You can see that the bird lifts its wings and puts his head under one wing. Only the Laysan performs this move.  If you watch the albatross for some time you can identify some 25 dance moves that are repeated over and over.

Four singles dancing together

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. The singles truly hang out for a period of time going out to sea to feed and then coming back again to resume the search for a 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 part and go their separate ways on the sea until the next year.

Albatross are known for mate and site fidelity. Once a pair has established a pair bond they usually stay mated for life, Divorces are not unknown but rare. A bird that loses its mate will return to the mating site and resume the search for a new mate.

 

The mating dance usually begins with bill clapping between the two prospective mates as the front pair in the picture above appear to be doing.  The second pair seem to be doing the movement where each bird moves its head from one side to another. Sometimes multiple pairs will be dancing in close proximity as shown above.

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.


The dance of the mating Laysan Albatross includes some 25 movements some of which are pictured on this page.

 In the picture to the rights, the bird on the right  is skypointing while the left most bird has tucked its bill under the left wing. Sometimes they do the same movement in unison.  Other time each bird does its own movement as in the picture to the right.

Laysan Albatross dance movements

This dancing goes on all day and all night. After dancing vigorously for a time the pairs may suddenly separate and walk away from each other. You can watch them all day and as you go to sleep at night you will be hearing them. A visit to Midway Atoll is truly living with Albatrosses.

The Nursery
After the female lays a single egg, she turns the nest which is little more than a pile of dead grass over to the male who incubates the egg for the first round.  The female goes to sea to feed. When she comes back they change places and the male goes out to sea.

After the chick hatches one adult continues to stay with chick while they take turns going to sea.  After a time both parents will go to sea leaving the chick alone.

In the picture to the right a parent has returned to the hungry chick. The chick pecks on the bill of the parent and the parent opens its mouth and disgorges food to the chick. 

I watched an adult return to feed a chick close to the hotel and noticed that the parent began by snapping at the neck of a nearby chick that was not its own to chase it away before beginning to feed the chick.

Laysan parent feeds its chick
Laysan feed chick

The chick now has its bill across the open bill of the parent and the parent is regurcitating food from its stomach to the chick.

II watched an adult return to feed a chick close to the hotel and noticed that the parent began by snapping at the neck of a nearby chick that was not its own to chase it away before beginning to feed its own chick.

The busy parents must find enough food for themselves and the always hungry chick.  If one parent fails to return, the other parents will try to sustain the chick but this effort usually results in an undernourished chick.  The remaining parent will return and try to find another mate.

If the parents return to find the chick dead or their egg gone, they go to sea separately and will not return until the next year.

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