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Comebacks: Endangered albatross nests on U.S. soil

By Hugh Powell
short tailed albatross comeback American Bird Conservancy hawaii
In this remarkable U.S. Fish and Wildlife photo, you can see two of the decoys flanking the nesting Short-tailed Albatross. In the foreground are two Black-footed and one Laysan Albatross. Photo by Sarah Gutowsky on Eastern Island.

Great news for the Short-tailed Albatross, a bird once so endangered by feather hunting that its population plummeted from an estimated million individuals to 10 pairs nesting on a single island in Japan in the 1950s. Since then, the long-lived species has slowly improved its numbers to about 3,000 birds.

Today, the American Bird Conservancy announced the discovery of two nests on two U.S. islands, Kure Atoll and Eastern Island near Midway, in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands. They are the first known nests of the species on U.S. soil. The birds had been encouraged to nest there by seabird conservationists who used albatross models to make it look like a colony was already thriving—a tactic that has been used with success in bringing back other threatened seabirds including murres and puffins.

I couldn’t find the press release on the Conservancy’s website, but it has been republished elsewhere. It’s well written and offers intriguing details about the parents tending the new eggs, the state of conservation efforts, and why scientists want the birds to nest somewhere they’ve never nested before. Well worth a read, and a breath of relief. While by no means common, Short-tailed Albatrosses are at least now a possibility for lucky birders on pelagic trips in the Pacific Northwest and Bering Sea (among the more numerous Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses). And they’re one more example of how a species, given just a little breathing room, can step back from the edge of extinction.

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American Kestrel by Blair Dudeck / Macaulay Library