Story of First Short-Tailed Albatross to Hatch Outside of Japan Told Through Pictures

Story of First Short-Tailed Albatross to Hatch Outside of Japan Told Through Pictures

Alisa Opar
Published: 02/02/2011


Male short-tailed albatross and chick. Photo: Pete Leary/USFWS

If everyone else was nesting on Eastern Island, would the short-tailed albatross, too? Yes. Well, eventually. For several years Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge employees have been placing albatross decoys and playing recorded calls to attract the enormous, rare seabirds to nest on Eastern Island—one of three small flat coral islands that make up Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge about 1,200 miles northwest of Honolulu. Their hard work paid off on January 14 when, for the first time in recorded history, a short-tailed albatross hatched outside of Japan. 

The species is in desperate need of new nesting colonies. “Shorties,” as researchers and birders affectionately call them, are the largest and most endangered seabird in the Northern Hemisphere. The majestic birds, whose wingspan measures up to 7.5 feet, may have once been the most abundant albatross in the North Pacific, with its population topping 5 million adults. Their numbers were decimated, due largely to being hunted for their feathers, and by the 20th century only two colonies remained on remote Japanese islands. Disaster struck in 1939 when a volcanic eruption buried their main breeding grounds on Torishima Island under 30 to 90 feet of lava. Only 10 nesting pairs survived. Today, conservation efforts have helped boost the population to about 2,400 birds.

(Click here to read “Raising Shorties,” USFWS endangered species biologist Greg Balogh’s wonderful account of working to establish a nesting colony on a tiny Japanese island.)

Below is the story of the Eastern Island chick, told through photographs.
 

Two decoys stand on either side of the nesting male short-tailed albatross. The decoys, along with playing taped bird calls, have been used on Eastern Island for several years to attract the birds. Before the effort began, shorties were rarely seen at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. 2008 saw the first mating and nesting attempt. Photo: Sarah Gutowsky/USFWS
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The proud papa shows off his egg. The birds build their nests with sand, shrubbery, or volcanic debris. They lay one egg, and parents split time on the egg during the 65-day incubation period. FWS staff and volunteers monitor the nest daily with the use of a remote video camera. Photo: J Klavitter/USFWS
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Amid a sea of Laysan albatross, the female incubates her egg. The father was banded as a fledgling on Torishima Island, Japan, in 1987. She was banded there as a fledging in 2003. Shorties begin breeding around age 6 and are monogamous, though they’ve been known to create a new pair bond if the original mate disappears or dies. Photo: Barbara Maxfield/USFWS
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On January 14, during a major storm, the chick hatched. “The parent is doing an excellent job of protecting it so we are guardedly optimistic about its chances for survival," said Daniel Clark, acting Refuge Manager. Photo: Pete Leary/USFWS
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The male protects the newly hatched chick on January 20. Photo: Pete Leary/USFWS
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Video of the male feeding the chick on January 28. Both adults feed the chick by regurgitating flying fish eggs and squid oil.
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Yesterday Pete Leary snapped the first picture of the female and her chick, which is tucked behind her. Photo: Pete Leary/USFWS
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The female with her chick. By late May to mid-June, the chick will nearly be full grown and the adults will begin to abandon their nest. Chicks fledge soon after adults leave the colony and head back out to sea. Photo: Pete Leary/USFWS