Friday June 26, 2015
Every year around mid-July comes a bittersweet time for our family farm. The Laysan albatross chicks, who we’ve watched grow from egg to awkward fledgling, will soon be taking off on a 3000 mile journey.
The albatross have made their nesting grounds on our land since long before we arrived in 1982. Every year, adolescent and adult Laysan albatross return to the place they were born to gather together, engage in courtship, and mate.
They’re an important part of our farm, reminding us of the power of home and family, the rewards of perseverance, and the ability of nature to design amazing things. We’re lucky enough to have two of nature’s gems, Laysan albatross and Noni fruit, in abundance on our land.
From Birthplace . . .
This batch of Laysan albatross hatched in late January, one egg to each pair of albatross. After their egg hatches, both the male and the female fly back and forth to the cold, rich waters off the coast of Alaska.
They eat and partially digest squid, fish, and other prey near the surface, and fly home to the chick. The chick eats the regurgitated stomach oil.
By the time mid-July comes around, the chicks have grown from 7 ounce balls of fluff to 4-5 lb juveniles. Their feathers have mostly changed from fluffy grey baby down to the black and white feathers of adults, although there are usually still some silly-looking tufts of grey feathers. This means they’re ready to fly.
Soon, this year’s chicks—including your favorite, Blossom—will take flight and begin their 3000 mile journey. At least one of the parents of each chick will return to Kauai for the last time this season. They’ll spend the day grooming their chick, getting all ready for the big takeoff. Then, when the Trade winds are high, the chicks will take off into the wind and start the voyage.
Their destination? The cold, squid-filled waters off the coast of Alaska.
. . . to the Coast of Alaska . . .
Can you imagine if your first steps were a 3000 mile walk? Laysan albatross fly 3000 miles nonstop the first time they take wing. But albatross aren’t ordinary birds.
Laysan albatross are aerodynamic soaring masters, who use wind speed and direction changes, different altitudes, and slight wing movements to glide above the ocean. Mature albatross only need to flap their wings a few times to travel many miles. The rest of the time, they glide.
The chicks will learn fast on their long, hard journey, discovering their ability to use every breath of wind to propel themselves higher and faster.
When they finally arrive at their feeding grounds off the coast of Alaska, they spend 3 to 4 years there. They simply float and eat squid, some fish and fish eggs, and a few crustaceans. Albatross hunt sitting on the surface of the water. When they spot something near the surface, they quickly plunge their heads underwater and snap it up.
It’s a dangerous place to grow up. Unfortunately, many albatross don’t survive their juvenile years at sea. But the ones who make it through quickly become experts. They focus their energy on feeding and growing, so they’re ready to start seeking a mate when they return to their birthplace.
When they’re full-grown, Laysan albatross can have a wingspan larger than 6 feet, and will weigh between 4 and 9 lbs. It’s time to make their first journey back to the breeding grounds: their home and ours on the coast of Kauai.
. . . and Back Again
No one is sure how these remarkable birds find their way home after so many years at sea, but every year near the start of winter, familiar breeding pairs return to the island. About a month later, they are joined by a number of juveniles who are ready to start looking for a mate.
Their accuracy is amazing. There’s another colony of Laysan albatross just a few miles north of us at Kilauea point, but these birds come back to our land, where they were born.
The juveniles watch the adults, and start slowly choosing mate. They mate for life, so it’s a very important decision! So far, the colony on our land has 19 breeding pairs, and the number is increasing all the time.
When the juveniles are about 7 years old, they return with the other breeding pairs and start mating for life. The whole cycle begins anew each season, and we feel so privileged to be witnesses to it.
We’ll keep you updated on the chicks—especially Blossom—and let you know when they start their journeys northward. We should still have a few weeks with them, and we plan to treasure every opportunity to appreciate these amazing creatures.
Do you have any questions about our friends the albatross? Let us know in the comments!