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A Royal Departure: Albatross Chick Atawhai Fledges

Watch Atawhai test the wind beneath her wings on the morning that she fledged.

It was only a matter of time! Atawhai, the star chick of the Northern Royal Albatross cam, took her first flight on the morning of September 16. There were no surprises here—all signs indicated a green light for takeoff. At 230 days post-hatch, Atawhai was a bit younger than the average fledgling (240 days), but she met a standard pre-fledge weight of 17.4 pounds (7.9 kg). Favorable winds may have also played a role into her departure, as the intrepid youngster looked every bit the part during hover practice this past week. Farewell, young Atawhai!

Thanks To Our Cam Partners: Even though Atawhai decided to fledge away from the cam’s view, these past 9 months were filled with memories that we won’t soon forget. The 2019–2020 breeding season marked the first in what we hope will be a long and fruitful partnership between the Cornell Lab and New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC), who manage the Northern Royal Albatross colony at the Taiaroa Head Nature Reserve.

What’s Next For Atawhai: The young albatross will now navigate the Pacific Ocean on a multi-year journey. Her next stop on land will be her return to the breeding colony at Taiaroa Head. DOC rangers report that she’ll start by foraging off the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island before taking the long 5,600 mile (9,000 km) journey to one of the richest areas of marine life in the world, the continental shelf of western South America. Royal Albatross fledglings spend 4–10 years at sea before they return to their natal area to breed. Perhaps she’ll one day be the parent of a future nestling on the Royal cam!

Once YRK and OGK (the adult breeding pair featured on this year’s cam) return to find their fledgling gone, they will switch gears to building up energy for the next breeding attempt. Because it takes so much time and effort to raise a single chick, Adult Northern Royal Albatross take a year-long break after a successful breeding attempt. The birds need the extra time to get into breeding condition again after spending up to 8 months constantly tending to their nestling. 

New Royal Family Coming Soon: We’re planning to live-stream another Royal Albatross nest when the 2020–2021 season begins in December. Until then, the Royal Cam will remain live 24/7 so you can enjoy the windswept New Zealand scenery and glimpse albatrosses passing by. Check out the Royal Cam’s YouTube playlist to relive all of the events from this past season, and stay up to date about what’s to come on Twitter at @RoyAlbatrossCam and @docgovnz.

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Pileated Woodpecker by Lin McGrew / Macaulay Library