Sharing The Peapod's Travel Adventures...

The Royal Albatross of Otago Peninsla

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This entry was posted on 1/5/2007 3:44 AM and is filed under New Zealand.

The Royal Albatross of Otago Peninsla

In the middle of the day (between our penguin visits) we visited Taiaroa Head - the world's ONLY mainland breeding colony of  the Royal Northern Albatross.  This is an area where the birds have been protected and studied closely for the past 70 years.  Each of the birds are banded and its life story documented.  If any birds are ill, there are full-time naturalists (rangers) who nurse them back to health and supplement their diet if necessary.  Over time the colony has slowly increased and now consists of 90-100 birds.

Their recorded life span exceeds 60 years and their flight speeds can be over 60 mph.  Their wingspan is over 3 meters - which is about 10 feet.  Here is a life-size model of one in the visitor's center - note the insert of Evelyn to give you a sense of scale...

The breeding birds arrive at Tairora Head in September.  Early in November the breeding couples build their nest, which is formed by one of the birds sitting down and pulling vegetation and earth around itself with its bill.  The female lays a white egg that weighs up to 500 grams (over a pound) during the first 3 weeks of November.  The parents then share incubation duty in spells of 2-8 days over a period of 11 weeks.  This is one of the longest incubation periods of any bird.  While its mate is away at sea the incubating bird sleeps much of the time.

They have a wonderful visitors' center set up where we took a one hour tour  allowing us access to this observation deck at the tip of the point.  From here we were able to look at 6 nesting pairs.

Notice the TV monitors in the corners.  These were closed circuit TVs, that the guide could control to zoom in on the nests.  From the deck we were really close to this pair...

Be sure to watch this movie.  When we got to the deck, this pair had just done a change-over, which often takes 30 minutes to half a day and is a very lucky event to observe.

The Royal Albatross Waits for the right updraft to take off

One of the things you'll see in our movie is how the Albatross that is taking off is waiting for just the right updraft to take off in.  Their wings are so large and heavy that it's difficult to flap them much - therefore they wait for a particularly strong wind to take them up and away.  They are the world's premier gliders.

The chicks hatch in late January and early February - so when we were there, they were still taking turns sitting on the eggs. Once the egg hatches the parents take turns guarding it for the first 30-40 days.  During this time the feeding of the chick is shared by both of the parents.

 For the first 20 days the chick is fed on demand, then meals decrease to 3 or 4 times a week.  In a 100 days the meals are up to 2 kilos each (over 4 pounds).  In the few weeks before the young Albatross takes off in flight, it is actually overweight, and the parents deliver the food for it from a distance, making it waddle over to them as a kind of "diet" and strengthening procedure.

When the young Albatross is fully fledged in September, it wanders from the nest, testing its outstretched wings, and takes off with the aid of a strong wind.  It will then spend the next THREE to SIX years at sea!  During this time it completely circumnavigates Antarctica several times.  Then it often times returns to this same spot to start its own family.

It was truly thrilling to see one of these royal and gigantic birds soaring right over our heads!

PS - Just a side note - the headland is also an important nesting site for another rare bird - the Spotted Shag.  Check out this little movie showing them - we found the motion of the seaweed mesmorizing too...

The Seaweed and the Shags - Poetry in motion


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