Bird Cams FAQ: Laysan Albatross Nest

September 1, 2012
Laysan Albatross from the bird cam
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Answers to your questions about the Laysan Albatross Cam. If you’re looking for the answer to a specific question, type control-F (command-F on a Mac) and start typing in your search terms to quickly find the answer.

About The Nests

What are the names of the Laysan Albatrosses on the camera?
What do their names mean?
How are the names of the albatrosses pronounced?
How can you tell which one is the male and which one is the female?
Where are the nests located?
Do the albatrosses use the same nest each year?

Adults

How big are albatrosses?
Do they mate for life?
How old are they when they have their first nest/nestlings?
Which parent sits on the nest?
Why are both albatrosses in some nesting pairs female?
How big is their territory?
What do Laysan Albatrosses eat?
How far do they travel to find food?
How do they get water?
Do they sleep?
Do they have a sense of smell?
What predators are threats to Laysan Albatrosses?
What kinds of sounds do they make?

Nests and Eggs

How many eggs do Laysan Albatrosses lay?
Why do they lay their egg in November?
How do female-female pairs fertilize an egg?
Why is there an egg lying outside one of the nests?
How long does it take for the egg to hatch?
How do scientists determine the fertility of an egg?
Why are some of the eggs in the nests infertile?
How big is the egg?
What is “pipping”?

Chicks

Are you going to band the chick?
Is the chick a boy or a girl?
How big is the chick?
How often do they eat?
The chick seems hungry. Why haven’t the parents fed it?
How old will the chick be when it leaves the nest?
When does the chick get adult plumage?
Does the parent look after the young bird after it leaves the nest?
How does the nestling get water?
The chick appears to be distressed and is panting, is she OK?
That bird just threw up. Is it it sick?
The parent has not returned, if the chick is starving will you rescue it?
Why did the adult albatross peck at the chick?
What happened to Kalai?

Bird Banding

What is bird banding?
Are you recording the band number of the albatrosses visiting the cam?
What do the different letters stand for on the bands?
Why are some bands are on the right leg and others on the left?
What do we know about the birds without bands?

Avian Pox

The chick’s face seems to be disfigured. Does the chick have some kind of disease?
Can you do anything to help cure the chick?
What causes avian pox?

Conservation

Are Laysan Albatrosses endangered?
What can I do to help albatrosses?
How many Laysan Albatrosses are there?
How long do they live?
How many albatross nests are there on Kauai?
I have seen a cat/dog on the Albatross Cam what should I do?

Cameras

Does the camera bother the albatrosses?
How long will the camera stay on?
What type of camera do you use?
Why is the nest so bright at night?
Does the light disturb the birds?

About The Nests

What are the names of the Laysan Albatrosses on the camera?

2017
The parents of the only nest on camera are a female-female pair named Pilialoha (K097) and Mahealani (KP672). On January 25, 2016, the pair’s adopted chick, Kalama, hatched from its egg.

2016
The parents of the fertile nest (nest 3, “west nest”) featured in front of the cam under the ironwood tree are male Manawanui (band number KP796) and unbanded female Moana; they laid their egg on November 28, 2015. The chick hatched on January 30, 2016 and was named Honua.

The parents on the upper nest to the right of nest 3 are male Ikaika (KP194) and female Mokihana (unbanded), and their egg was laid November 26. The chick hatched on January 28, 2016, and was named Kialoa.

There is another fertile nest just out of site of the camera, downslope; the egg laid on December 3 is tended by parents male Ka`imi (KP688) and female Lilinoe (KP093). The chick hatched on February 4, 2016 and was named Haulani.

There are also two infertile nests being tended by two female-female pairs: Pilialoha (K097) and Mahealani (KP672) are at the lower nest (beneath Mokihana and Ikaika); and Lawakua and Kiwahiwa are at the nest to the left of Manuwanui and Moana’s nest, near the driveway.

Last year’s on-camera parents continue to nest at the property that formerly hosted the cam from 2014-2015. We will update about these pairs over social media as we learn more about their nesting efforts from the Kauai Albatross Network.

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What do their names mean?

2017
The nest on camera is being tended by K097 Pilialoha (“faithful companion”) and KP672 Mahealani (“phase of the moon”). In 2017, the chick was named Kalama (meaning “enlightenment”).

2016
The central fertile nest is tended by male KP796 Manawanui (meaning “steadfast and courageous”) and unbanded female Moana (“ocean”). The upper nest (also fertile) is overseeen by the unbanded male Ikaika (“strong”) and the female KP194 Mokihana (“Kauai lei”). The fertile nest just out of sight was made by the male KP093 Ka`imi (“seeker”) and the female KP688 Lilinoe (“misty rain”).

The two infertile nests were made by female-female pairs. The nest near the driveway has an unbanded pair (Lawakua, meaning “faithful partner”, and Kiwahiwa, or “chosen beloved”). The lower nest (beneath Ikaika and Mokihana’s nest) is being tended by K097 Pilialoha (“faithful companion”) and KP672 Mahealani (“phase of the moon”).

In 2016, the chicks were named in honor of the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage and the amazing long-distance voyaging Hawaiian canoes that so aptly mimic the long-distance foraging flights of these graceful seabirds.

The chick at nest 3 was named Honua (“the central secion of a canoe fleet”), the chick at nest 4 was named Kialoa (“long, light/swift canoe”), and the chick at nest 2 was named Haulani (“to surge or plunge”).

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How are the names of the albatrosses pronounced?

2017
Pilialoha: “Pee-lee-ah-low-ha”
Mahealani: “Ma-heh-ah-lah-nee”
Kalama: “Kah-lah-mah”

2016
Nest 1:
Lawakua: “Lah-va-koo-ah”
Kiwahiwa: “Kee-va-hee-va”

Nest 2:
Ka`imi: “Kaʻee-mee” (note the glottal stop)
Lilinoe: “Lee-lee-no-eh”
Haulani: “how-lah-nee”

Nest 3:
Manawanui: “Ma-na-va-noo-ee”
Moana: “Moh-ah-nah”
Honua: “Ho-noo-ah”

Nest 4:
Ikaika: “Ee-Kai-kah”
Mokihana: “Moh-kee-hah-nah”
Kialoa: “Kee-ah-low-ah”

Nest 5:
Pilialoha: “Pee-lee-ah-low-ha”
Mahealani: “Ma-heh-ah-lah-nee”

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How can you tell which one is the male and which one is the female?

The 2017 nesting season features a female-female pair, but normally it’s very difficult to tell males from females. In general the males are slightly larger, and they have subtle shape differences such as flatter, wider heads and wider bills. The only sure ways to tell the sexes apart are to see certain behaviors such as copulation or egg-laying, or by using a DNA test.

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Where are the nests located?

They are on a private residence on the north shore of Kauai, near the town of Kilauea, Hawaii.

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Do the albatrosses use the same nest each year?

They usually nest in the same general area, but they may move the precise nest location from year to year.

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Adults

How big are albatrosses?

Laysan Albatrosses are very large seabirds, though they are actually fairly small for an albatross. They are about 2.5 feet long with a wingspan of nearly 7 feet. They can weigh up to 10 pounds.

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Do they mate for life?

Laysan Albatrosses form very long-lasting pair bonds. A pair that has nested successfully at least once is very likely to remain together unless one member of the pair dies. Raising a chick takes almost seven months from laying to fledging. Raising a chick is so demanding that there’s a real benefit to a pair to having reliable timing and foraging success. Their elaborate courtship dances help to establish and maintain these very long and strong pair bonds.

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How old are they when they have their first nest/nestlings?

Laysan Albatrosses take a long time to begin breeding. Young birds first return to a breeding colony when they are 3-5 years old. Over the next few years they’ll learn how to court, look for a mate, and begin nesting. Typically, they are not successful until they are 8 (males) or 9 (females) years old.

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Which parent sits on the nest?

Both parents participate equally in incubating the egg and feeding the chick. Typically the female lays the egg and then leaves for several weeks to help restore her body condition after producing the egg. The male takes the first incubation shift, then they trade off after that.

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Why are both albatrosses in some nesting pairs female?

The adult population of Laysan Albatross colonies on multiple islands tends to have more females than males. Since an albatross chick requires the care and effort of two individuals, females sometimes pair up with other females to raise a chick. This seems to be a better strategy than not breeding at all when females can’t find male partners.

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How big is their territory?

Albatrosses and many other seabirds range over vast distances when they feed. These birds forage an area of about four million square miles, roughly the size of the entire United States, including Alaska. But the area they actually defend as a territory is very small—not much more than the distance a bird can reach while it’s sitting on the nest. At the nest cam site, there’s another albatross nest just about 30 feet away.

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What do Laysan Albatrosses eat?

Laysan Albatrosses eat mostly squid that they catch by plunging their heads underwater as they sit on the surface. They also eat fish eggs, floating carrion, and sometimes discards from fishing boats. Adults digest food in their stomachs and then feed their chicks large amounts of nutritious stomach oil.

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How far do they travel to find food?

The farthest-known single foraging one-way trip for a Laysan Albatross feeding its chick was 1,600 miles (straight-line distance). Thatʻs more than 3,000 miles round trip.

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How do they get water?

Albatrosses belong to a group of birds known as tubenoses; the group also includes petrels, shearwaters, fulmars, storm-petrels, and diving-petrels. They have a special salt gland in their head that extracts excess salt from their blood and excretes it through a pair of bony tubes in the bill. This remarkable adaptation allows tubenoses to drink seawater without becoming dehydrated.

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Do they sleep?

Yes. When asleep they will close their eyes. Itʻs speculated that they can fly while sleeping.

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Do they have a sense of smell?

Although it’s thought that most birds have a poor sense of smell, albatrosses and other seabirds have very good olfactory abilities. One way they find food on the open ocean is by following a scent upwind until they find the source. Some pelagic bird watching trips make use of this behavior by putting oily, fragrant fish or fish oil into the water to attract seabirds within view.

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What predators are threats to Laysan Albatrosses?

Laysan Albatrosses evolved to breed on isolated Pacific Islands with essentially no land-based predators. On many islands, humans have introduced predators that can be very damaging. On Kauai, the biggest threat is unleashed dogs. If these dogs enter a colony, they can kill many albatrosses in just a few minutes. Other predators include pigs, cats, rats, and mongooses. Recently fledged albatrosses make easy prey for tiger sharks.

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What kinds of sounds do they make?

The most common sound you’ll hear from the adults is a repeated dry, hollow clapping. They make this sound by snapping their bill shut. They often do this as an albatross or other animal approaches, and it may indicate a warning. When courting, they make a much more rapid and longer version of this that sounds like a woodpecker drumming. They often give a shrill whinny when greeting or advertising their presence. They also make a short, low moo. Hear more examples of albatross sounds in our Macaulay Library.

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Nests and Eggs

How many eggs do Laysan Albatrosses lay?

Each female lays at most one egg per year. Some females skip a year in between breeding attempts to help restore their body condition.

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Why do they lay their egg in November??

Albatrosses are mostly birds of the southern hemisphere—about three-quarters of the world’s 20+ albatross species occur south of the equator. Scientists think that northern hemisphere albatrosses like the Laysan are descended from southern-hemisphere birds and inherited a breeding season timed for the southern summer.

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How do female-female pairs fertilize an egg?

Genetic testing of chicks reared at female-female nests has shown the father to be a paired male from a nearby nest. This behavior is called “extra-pair copulation” where a male mates with a female outside of his pair bond.

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Why is there an egg lying outside one of the nests?

From year to year, a female-female nest may be in view of the cam. Often, in a female-female nesting pair, both females will lay eggs, and one of them will end up being incubated. Female-female pairs last for multiple years, and even though the success rate isn’t as high as male-female pairs, each female gets the opportunity to reproduce over multiple years of cooperative chick rearing.

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How long does it take for the egg to hatch?

Eggs hatch in about 60-64 days.

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How do scientists determine the fertility of an egg?

The presence of a viable embryo in an egg can be checked using a technique called candling. A bright light is held up to an egg and, if the egg is fertile, a dark spot in the yolk (the embryo) can be seen along with a network of blood vessels.

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Why are some of the eggs in the nests infertile?

Infertility in albatrosses is due to the same sort of random chance as it is in any other species, humans included. A variety of factors can lead to an infertile egg, that is, an egg with a non-viable embryo. Health of the parents, semen quality of male, age and experience, and environmental variables such as temperature can all affect the fertility of an egg.

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How big are their eggs?

Laysan Albatross eggs are about 4.5 inches long and almost 3 inches wide. They have a volume of about 9 fluid ounces, or slightly more than a cup measure.

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What is “pipping”?

“Pipping” refers to the process of initially breaking through the shell with a hard projection on the bill called the egg tooth. The resulting hole is the “pip” which the chick then enlarges to finish hatching. On average, albatross chicks take about 3.5 days to emerge fully from the egg once pipping has begun.

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Chicks

Are you going to band the chick?

Yes. Each year near the end of the chick period, trained biologists band all the albatross chicks they can find on Kauai.

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Are the chicks boys or a girls?

We can’t tell the chick’s gender just by looking. The only way to know an albatross’s gender for sure is by DNA testing or, with adults, by observing behavior (for example, witnessing the female lay an egg, or seeing the male perching on the back of the female during mating).

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How big is the chick?

Upon hatching, nestlings weigh about 6 ounces. When they fledge, five to six months later, they weigh about 4.5 pounds.

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How often do they eat?

Albatross chicks are fed every day for the first two weeks of life. After that the the feedings get less frequent as the parents forage farther at sea. They average about 2.5 days per visit, , but sometimes they only stay long enough to feed. Adults may stay away for up to 17 days.

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The chick seems hungry. Why haven’t the parents fed it?

Laysan Albatrosses may travel up to 3,000 miles to gather food for their chicks. One of them stays with the chick constantly for the first three to four weeks. As the chick grows, it needs more food. The parents stay away for longer and longer, up to 17 days. How do they do it?

Well, all birds have a two-part stomach. The first part, called the “proventriculus” is where the food mixes with enzymes and is liquefied. The second, called the “ventriculus” is where solid food is ground up and nutrients absorbed. Adult albatross, and other species in the order Procellariformes, use this anatomy as a kind of separating funnel. When Laysans feed on squid and fish for days at sea, the food accumulates in the proventriculus and is liquefied. The water-soluble nutrients dissolve in water and accumulate on the bottom, while the oily, fatty part floats on top. When the flap to the ventriculus opens, the water-soluble portion passes to the ventriculus and is used up by the adult for energy, while the fat-rich “stomach oil” gets left behind in the proventriculus. The adult returns to its chick with a proventriculus full of this energy-rich “stomach oil”, which can keep the chick going for days, even weeks. In fact, the calorific value of “stomach oil” is only slightly lower than that of diesel oil.

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How old will the chick be when it leaves the nest?

Chicks take about 165 days to fledge—about 5.5 months. Some fledge a bit earlier or later.

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When does the chick get adult plumage?

Young Laysan Albatrosses start to look like adults as soon as they get rid of their initial downy coat. As they grow and start to approach fledging, the brown down feathers fall away to reveal brown and white adultlike plumage beneath. The chicks begin to shed their down feathers from their underparts upward. Older chicks often have funny looking “haloes” or “toupees” of brown down clinging to their otherwise smooth white heads.

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Does the parent look after the young bird after it leaves the nest?

No. When the chick fledges, it takes to the sea and spends the next three years or more on the open ocean, caring for itself.

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How does the nestling get water?

The nestling gets water and energy from fat. When fat from the fish oil and solid food like squid is metabolized, or processed to release its energy, water is produced. For every gram of fat that is metabolized, the bird gets 1.07 grams of water as well as energy! So, it has enough energy and water to make it possible to stay at the nest site for days or weeks.

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The chick appears to be distressed and is panting, is he or she OK?

The chick is panting to keep cool. Under conditions of severe heat adults and young can pant heavily with mouths open and throat lowered and distended. Did you know that the nestling’s feet are a few degrees hotter than the rest of their body? Nestlings usually sit with their backs to the sun, shading their feet and can raise their feet off the ground to allow for cooling. Large juveniles often combine panting with the feet-in-air posture when they are exposed to intense solar radiation and little or no air movement.

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That bird just threw up. Is it sick?

You probably observed it regurgitating or “casting” a bolus. When meals are swallowed whole, indigestible parts of prey, and other items picked up by the parents- such as indigestible plastics- will form a bolus in a muscular area of the stomach called the proventriculus. The young birds may cast a bolus close to the time of fledging. Each year we have seen a nestling cast a bolus containing various items including plastics that were fed to the chick by its parents.

When plastic debris enters the oceans, primarily from rivers, the plastics do not biodegrade or mineralize (go away), but they do photo-degrade when exposed to sunlight, breaking down into smaller pieces that can be consumed by birds and other animals. Laysan Albatross and other seabirds consume much plastic floating on the surface of the oceans as they skim the water for squid and other sea foods. On Midway (Pacific Atoll) an estimated 5 tons of plastic are being accidentally fed to nestlings each year.

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The parent has not returned, if the chick is starving will you rescue it?

Laysan Albatross young have evolved to be able to survive long spells on shore while parents are foraging sometimes thousands of miles away. Occasionally parents can be away from the chicks for a little over 2 weeks, and chicks can lose up to 50 percent of their body weight. Once winds change parents usually start returning to land.

While the young albatrosses on cam have experienced parents that keep their young well-fed, there is always the risk of a parent dying at sea. There are currently no wildlife rehabilitation facilities that accept young albatrosses whose parents have disappeared, due to the inherent difficulties of keeping this wild bird alive in captivity; as such, there are no plans to feed or care for chicks that have lost their parents.

The chicks will not be fed or taken into care if it is looking like one or both parents may not return. Caring for an albatross is challenging and something very few wildlife rehabilitators will do.

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Why did the adult albatross peck at the chick?

We have seen various levels of aggression displayed on the cam both this year and last year, where parents and other adult albatross snap and peck at the young chicks. On a few occasions the aggression has appeared to be quite harsh. These behaviors are seen across the species’ range and are a normal part of their behavior. Extremes have been reported in a 1962 study of breeding behavior of Laysan and Black-footed Albatross by D.W. Rice and K.W. Kenyon the researchers observed displays of aggression between parents and unrelated nestlings in both study species. The scientists report that various adults, after feeding their own chicks, often rush to the nearest neighboring nest and attack unattended young, and that submissive behavior is among the first behaviorisms expressed by newly hatched chicks (Rice and Kenyon, 1962). The number of observations where these various interactions occurred was not recorded; however, the behavior we are seeing on the cam is natural and not unique to these particular individuals.

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What happened to the nestling Kalai in 2015?

On May 6, the two albatross nestlings featured on the Albatross Cam, Niau and Kalai, were banded by a team from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. During the process, Kalai did not struggle, and the wildlife biologists noticed that it appeared more lethargic than other birds they have banded. The banding process went smoothly for both nestlings, but the next day Kalai appeared to be unable to stand up. A group of Kauai Albatross Network volunteers and the wildlife rehabilitator from Save Our Shearwaters quickly arrived on-scene to evaluate the young bird, and they discovered a straight-line fracture in Kalai’s tarsus (the bone above the bone with the band).

It is unclear whether there was a pre-existing condition that was exacerbated during the banding (indicated by Kalai’s unusually lethargic manner) or whether the fracture was a product of the banding, but the wildlife rehabilitator made the decision to take Kalai in for further evaluation. Upon examination, a surgical option was determined to be the best route for increasing the likelihood of a full recovery, and Kalai’s leg was surgically stabilized on May 8. Kalai was returned to a spot in the shade near the nest site to ensure interaction and feedings with his/her parents. This shady spot is out of view of the cam, but Kalai will be checked on daily to assess condition, and will be revaluated within 7-10 days.​

It is difficult for the team involved, as well as for viewers, to hear news that Kalai is injured, since everyone cares deeply about the health and welfare of the albatrosses. We are lucky have such a skilled and passionate team on hand to assist in Kalai’s recovery.

Since 2011 the banding program on Kauai has banded 490 albatrosses without incident. Laysan Albatrosses are not on the Endangered Species List. The data on banding have provided critical information on the identities and survivorship of individual birds to help improve the understanding and protection of the species.

Special thanks to the Kauai Albatross Network and Save Our Shearwaters for the swift response, and to the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources for helping to coordinate the effort.

UPDATE May 20, 2015: Sad News About Kala`i

We are very sad to update you with some difficult news about Kala`i. As you know, wildlife rehabilitators brought Kala`i in for evaluation yesterday. Although they had hoped to see signs of recovery, they discovered that Kala`i’s condition had worsened. Consultation with a highly regarded wildlife veterinarian made it clear that recovery was not possible. To prevent suffering, the decision was made to euthanize Kala`i.

We realize this will come as very sad news to you, as it is to us and everyone involved. Our understanding is that it’s unknown what the underlying cause was for Kala`i’s initial and continuing condition. Throughout this difficult experience, we’ve been thankful for the care, respect, and efforts of the organizations involved in trying to help Kala`i recover, and thankful for the thoughtful and caring support of the cam community.​

UPDATE May 23, 2015

We wish to thank the cam community for your expressions of caring, support, and concern in the days since we reported the loss of Kala`i. It means a lot to everyone involved in the project, both here at the Cornell Lab and on Kaua`i, where teams of volunteers and wildlife rehabilitation professionals worked to ensure that Kala`i had the best possible chance of recovery. Thank you.

We have also received your requests for more information about Kala`i’s condition, and have been working to gather additional details. As mentioned earlier, Kala`i was brought into care because the injuries weren’t healing as they should have been. The evaluation included x-rays which revealed that Kala`i had developed additional fractures in the other (right) leg and pubis bone in the interim and that they were not repairable. The fact that Kala`i developed new fractures suggested the possibility of an underlying physiological or metabolic problem. 

We have now received additional news of two chicks elsewhere on the island with injuries after banding by a different team of seasoned banding professionals from another wildlife agency. These injuries also included fractured femurs, a discovery that suggests the possibility of exposure to something in the environment that could be causing weakened bones among this cohort of chicks. Following consultation with wildlife veterinarians and wildlife professionals, both chicks were euthanized today.

Banding has now been ceased on private and public lands until there is further information about the condition of these birds and the cause. We are told that necropsies for all three birds will be performed by a professional in Honolulu. To our knowledge, the finding of chicks with fragile or broken bones on the island is unprecedented. It is unclear at this time whether the necropsies will yield useful information, but we will provide updates as they become available. We ask your patience since the analyses and report may take some time.

The Kaua`i Humane Society and Save Our Shearwaters have shouldered the bulk of the effort and expense during the care of all three chicks. You can donate to help defray their costs and support ongoing recovery efforts via this link, with a note in the acknowledgements, “Albatross Recovery Efforts.” Thank you!

If you have questions, please contact birdcams@cornell.edu

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Bird Banding

What is bird banding?

Bird banding is a universal technique for studying the movement, survival and behavior of birds. The North American Bird Banding Program is jointly administered by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and Canadian Wildlife Services. Banding birds requires capturing the birds and handling them before the banding takes place. The banding of birds in the United States is controlled under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and requires a U. S. Federal Bird Banding and Marking Permit. There is no fee for this permit. In addition to a signed application scientists need to submit a complete research proposal documenting the goals, purpose and project in detail before banding takes place. A resume of their banding experience must also be included and should explain the numbers of hours worked, level of supervision, species diversity, and numbers of birds handled.

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Are you recording the band number of the albatrosses visiting the cam?

Yes. It is great to record the bands on the albatrosses’ legs whenever possible. You can let us know the bands you see by Tweeting us at @albatrosscam. Don’t forget to include the Hawaii time and date. You can also email us at birdcams@cornell.edu.

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What do the different letters stand for on the bands?

Bands starting with K, KP, or A, black or blue with white lettering, were banded on Kauai. A or P bands were banded on the west of the island and are usually white with black letters. O bands are from Oahu and are purple with white lettering. Occasionally we may see a yellow-banded visitor. These bands are from the early days of banding in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Be sure to let us know if you see any unusual colors on bands!

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Why are some bands are on the right leg and others on the left?

Bands on the right leg are birds that were banded as adults, left leg banded as nestlings.

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What do we know about the birds without bands?

We have no way to know the gender, age or hatch site of these birds.

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Avian Pox

The chick’s face seems to be disfigured. Does the chick have some kind of disease?

Sometimes nestlings develop lesions around the eyes. These are probably caused by avian pox, an introduced virus often transmitted by mosquitoes that has affected many of Hawaii’s native birds (see What causes avian pox).

The good news is that Laysan Albatrosses usually recover on their own from avian pox. A five-year study at Kaena Point, Oahu, found that albatross chicks showed the same likelihood of fledging whether it was a high-pox year or a low-pox year (in all years, chicks had about an 81 percent chance of surviving to fledge). In wet years, when standing water created places for mosquitoes to breed, as many as 88 percent of all chicks contracted pox; in drier years as few as 3 percent of chicks got sick.

The researchers found that most infected chicks recovered before fledging and showed no lasting injuries. Out of some 165 chicks examined in the study, 2 chicks had severe cases and later died, likely from the disease. Three of the fledged chicks were seen in later years as adults, indicating effective recovery from the disease. (This number, though low, is remarkable because the study was only five years long and albatrosses usually only begin returning to their nesting colony when 3-5 years old.)

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Can you do anything to help cure the chick?

There is no standard cure for avian pox in wild birds. Because Laysan Albatross chicks typically survive avian pox, and because capturing a wild animal can itself be detrimental, biologists will not interfere with the chick and will let the disease run its course. The effects may be unsightly for a time, but there is an excellent chance that, like human kids who get chicken pox, the chick will pull through and be fine.

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What causes avian pox?

Avian pox is a virus typically transmitted by the bite of a mosquito or fly, particularly the introduced mosquito Culex quinquefasciatus it can also be transmitted by direct contact with another infected individual or with the virus itself in dust or on contaminated surfaces such as bird feeders. Avian pox exists worldwide, and there are 13 described species of the virus.

Avian pox usually causes lesions, nodules, and warty growths, typically on the face, bill, legs, and other bare parts; a rarer form can affect the mucous membranes. It affects many species in Hawaii: though Laysan Albatrosses tend to survive the disease fairly well, avian pox has had more serious effects on other native forest birds and has been implicated in the decline of some species.

The disease arrived in Hawaii at least a century ago (probably during the 19th century) as people imported chickens and other domestic birds. The mosquito Culex quinquefasciatus had arrived by 1827 and probably greatly aided the spread of the disease from bird to bird. At the same time, introduced birds, which are naturally more resistant, were becoming established on the islands. By harboring the disease while being bitten by mosquitoes, these birds may have further increased the exposure of native bird species to avian pox.

Visit Project Feederwatch for more information on common diseases in backyard birds of the mainland United States.

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Conservation

Are Laysan Albatrosses endangered?

No, but their global status is Near Threatened. Laysan Albatrosses are numerous, but as with all albatross species there are serious threats to their population. The most pressing threats include climate change and sea level rise, fisheries bycatch, and the build-up of plastic debris in the ocean. Predation by dogs, pigs and cats is a concern for Kauai birds. Fully 99 percent of Laysan Albatrosses nest on small, low-lying tropical islands, and these breeding areas will likely be submerged by rising sea levels as a result of climate change in this century—this is the major long-term threat to the Laysan Albatross. More immediate threats include introduced predators such as dogs, cats, rats, and mongoose; lead poisoning from paint chips on Midway (the largest single colony); bycatch in fisheries; and ingestion of plastics. Large losses occurred from gill nets and drift nets set to catch fish (drift netting killed up to 17,500 albatrosses per year, but ended in 1992). Longline fishing, in which ships tow many miles of line with baited hooks, still catches and kills thousands of albatrosses. Since the early 2000s, U.S. (Hawaii and Alaska) longliners have adopted fairly successful solutions to bycatch, but other nations’ longline fisheries have not. The oceans contain enormous amounts of floating plastic debris, which adults often pick up and feed to their chicks. This plastic can cause death by starvation or dehydration, puncture a bird’s digestive system, or leach harmful chemicals into their systems. Albatrosses take a long time to reach maturity and they raise at most only one young per year, so populations take a long time to recover from any increases in adult death rates.

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What can I do to help albatrosses?

You can help albatrosses by avoiding unsustainably caught seafood and by reducing your use of plastic—two major threats to albatrosses at sea. Longline fishing boats that fail to use seabird-safe equipment catch thousands of albatrosses per year by mistake. The birds go after the bait as it is thrown overboard but before it sinks. If they get hooked, they drown. U.S. and Hawaii fisheries have mandated the use of seabird-safe measures, but many other nations that produce fish for global and U.S. markets do not. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program offers convenient information and an app about how to choose sustainable seafood in stores and restaurants. You can also help albatrosses by reducing your use of plastics and making sure plastic litter goes into recycling bins or garbage cans. Discarded plastic ends up in the oceans, where albatrosses pick it up and eat it or feed it to their chicks.

If you have substantial financial resources, please visit the Kaua’i Albatross Network to inquire about purchasing property on Kauai to protect the birds.

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How many Laysan Albatrosses are there?

When monitoring populations, biologists focus their counts on breeding pairs. The most recent estimate is 591,000 breeding pairs, or about 1.2 million breeding adults. This doesn’t include younger, nonbreeding birds.

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How long do they live?

Laysan Albatrosses can live very long lives. In early 2015, the oldest known Laysan Albatross was at least 64 years old and still breeding successfully. Her name is Wisdom and she nests on the islands at Midway.

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How many albatross nests are there on Kauai?

Nearly 400 pairs started nests on Kauai in the 2014-2015 breeding season. The population has been growing since the late 1970s, when the first albatrosses returned to Kauai after an absence of many centuries. The first chick fledged from Kilauea in 1979. This year about 150 nests are on the grounds of the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge and about 200 on private lands along a roughly 11-mile stretch of Kauai’s north shore, from Princeville to Anahola.

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I have seen a cat/dog on the Albatross Cam what should I do?

Please report any sightings of cats or dogs to our Twitter account @albatrosscam or via email to birdcams@cornell.edu immediately. We can then notify the Kaua’i Albatross Network volunteers on the ground and the property managers. Active humane trapping will be organized and any captured animals will be taken to the local Humane Society. Both feral cats and loose dogs could predate on the young albatross nestlings and we want to do all we can to prevent this from happening. Thank you in advance for your help.

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Cameras

Does the camera bother the albatrosses?

No, the albatrosses usually ignore the camera. Chicks can be quite mobile and curious—it’s possible the chick will investigate the camera at some point.

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How long will the camera stay on?

The cam will stream during the entire nesting season. Chicks fledge between mid-June and mid-July.

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What type of camera do you use?

The camera is an Axis P5635e. Check out the Axis website for more information.

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Why is the nest so bright at night?

The Axis P5635e Network Camera has an infrared (IR) illuminator. Most of the cameras we use are IR sensitive, meaning they can see IR light. IR light is not to be confused with thermal imaging. The cameras can see IR light reflected off objects such as the nest, birds and eggs.

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Does the light disturb the birds?

No. Albatross cannot see infrared (IR) so the IR illuminator does not disturb them.

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Comments

  • PookGirl

    The nestling seems to be sitting on an egg. What is this about?