No, we didn’t forget about you…

How could anyone forget about Lime-Green-Black and his beautiful baby chick? One of the countries that I often applaud is New Zealand. I have a good friend and colleague who lives there and he is quick to say that New Zealanders love their birds! He wishes they would do more to clean up the coal industry but, he is thrilled at what they do for their wildlife. And that is where we are going to begin today: the Royal Albatross Colony on Taiaroa Head. It is on the southern Island near Dunedin.

It is summer in the Southern Hemisphere. And we are checking on the Royal Albatross couple, LGL and LGK. I know. What is with all the letters, right? The New Zealand Department of Conservation puts coloured bands on the Royal Albatross. They have specific date ranges for the beginning colour so that the Rangers can tell immediately the approximate age of the sea bird they are trying to identify. So our couple is: Lime-Green-Lime (female) and Lime-Green-Black (male). You might think that Black should be B but that goes to Blue. So K is used for Black.

LGL and LGK have been a mated pair since 2017. Albatross mate for life. If one dies, then it is hoped that they find a new mate. And sometimes, there are divorces! Or Threesomes. It can get complicated. But, generally, we consider them a mated pair for life which can be very long, into the 60s and 70s.

LGL laid their egg on November 7, 2020. The parents each took turns incubating the egg so that the other could go out to sea to feed. The incubation period is approximately 80 days. The NZ DOC rangers check the eggs early to find out if they are fertile and they continue to check them. Near to hatch, they check closely as they will remove the egg and replace it with a dummy egg. This allows the chick to hatch in an incubator. It is returned to the parent once it has hatched and is dry. At that time the Rangers sprayed the nest with an insecticide so that no fly larvae can get on the wee one. The insecticide is not harmful. Until such a time as the chick can regulate its own temperature and it is safe to leave it on the nest by itself, the parents will continue their rotation. One will keep the chick warm and feed it while the other is out to sea fishing. This nesting period lasts ten months. The laying the egg and the nesting period is so hard on the Albatross that they only have one chick every 2 years. As it happens, LGL and LGK were the Royal Cam parents in 2019 and their little one received a Maori name, Karere. It means ‘Messenger’.

I bet you are wondering about the names. Normally, the people of New Zealand submit possible names for the Royal cam chick. A number are selected for a final judging and a committee picks one of these. And that becomes the name. The individual who submitted the winning name gets a trip to see the Royal cam chick in person. In practice, only Royal cam chicks get names but they also get coloured bands. In 2020, because of the pandemic, no one could see the chick so the decision was made to open the naming contest to everyone in the world. The winning name for the female, known fondly as Pippa, was Atawhai. Atawhai means ‘kindness and caring’ in Maori.

One thing that I noted in checking the history of this Royal Cam couple is that both of their chicks hatched on the same day, 24 January. Karere in 2019 and this little one in 2021.

Look at that beautiful little baby being fed by its dad, LGK?

The parent teaches them to feed by tapping on their bill. In the image above you can see the chick with its bill inside the parents being fed a nice ‘squid shake’. It does not take long for the chick to figure out the tapping so that they can stimulate the parent to feed them. The parents regurgitate an oil squid liquid from a second stomach for the feedings.

In the image below, LGK (the male) is looking on as the chick is weighed. Remember that the chick hatched on 24 January. The weighing that you are seeing was 2 February. It is normal that the chick would be weighed inside a small sock. If you look carefully you will see a linen bag in front of the elbow of the ranger doing the weigh in. The chick needed a bigger bag! Oh, my goodness. This little one is growing so fast. Only nine days old and already needing to be upsized.

Now, everyone likes to speculate on the gender of the chick and there are also games played on how how much weight the chick has gained over the week. I am going right out there and saying that this is a little boy. Male albatrosses are bigger than the females. (It is the opposite for raptors such as Bald Eagles, Peregrine falcons, Red tail Hawks, etc.). We should know in about a week.

Any chick weighing more than 500 grams will only be weighed once a day, not twice. So, what I know is that this little one is more than 500 grams but it is only being weighed once. Someone mentioned 660 grams or 1.4 lbs. But I have to verify that.

This is an image from the weighing yesterday. You can see the linen bag instead of the sock much more clearly.

The proud parent looks on waiting very patiently for the return of their baby! All is well with our little one.

The picture below is priceless. Can you spot that little cutie pie poking its head out? Precious.

I have learned so much about these beautiful birds. The Southern Albatross are the largest seabirds in the world with an average wing span of in excess of 3 metres or 9.8 feet. (I should mention that for a very long time it was thought that the Wandering Albatross was the largest both in wingspan and bulk but recent studies indicate that it is the Southern Royal Albatross or that they are the same.) When they are adults they will weigh about 8.5 kilograms or 18.73 pounds. Wow. Our little one has a long way to go. Once our chick fledges (or flies out to sea), they will spend four to six years on the ocean feeding and growing before they ever set their paddle feet on land. In fact, they have ‘sea legs’. You have probably heard that term. They can be quite wobbly. They will return to where they were born, as juveniles, looking for a mate. But they will not breed that year.

The parents are very tender with one another. They do sky calls, holding their head up proudly to the sky, and they preen one another. They see one another when they switch incubating and nesting duties. Once this chick fledges which is normally in September, they will not see one another again until the following November, if both survive. They are remarkable sea birds. I like to call them ‘Gentle Giants’.

LGL and LGK preening one another.

The Albie on the right is doing a sky call. They will raise their long neck as if looking straight to the sky and give out what some call a ‘high pitched screaming bray’. Some say it sounds like a donkey! Not so sure about that but, maybe. Definitely higher pitched. When one or another of the parents arrive, they will often do a series of sky calls. In this instance it is really a way to say ‘hello’. Eventually the little one will copy their parents in the welcome.

Skycall.

Good Morning E17 and E18! The good news about our little eaglets from Harriet and M15’s aerie in Fort Myers is that they had their eyes open this morning with little to no discharge. Isn’t that fantastic? E-17 still has mild irritation in its right eye and conjuctivitis in both eyes. I wasn’t sure what that meant so I checked. We used to call it pink eye! It is an inflammation of the clear membrane that lines the eyes and covers the white part of our eyeball. You will have seen someone, maybe even yourself, where the blood vessels are visible. This is when they are inflamed and the white of the eye will appear pink or very red. That is what E-17 is fighting. E18 eyes are better. Both are really eating well. E17 is now 385 grams while E18 is 295 grams. If you have forgotten the weights from my last posting. E17 was 285 grams and has gained 100 grams and E18 was 220 grams and has gained 65 grams. Oh, they just look so much better and they are definitely gaining weight. This is so good. Maybe they can be delivered back to their parents by the end of the week. Let’s all send them warm wishes cheering them on. It looks like the antibiotics are starting to work.

There is also some good news for our Bald Eagles at Duke Farms. The snow gently fell again last night but by noon today (3 February), we can now see that it is beginning to melt off parts of the nest. Oh, this pair of eagles will surely be wanting spring to arrive. Just like I am. It is -4 and grey today. Cold to the bone but it is at least not -26 like it was a few days ago.

Take care everyone. Stay safe. Thank you so much for stopping in to check on the birds around the world with me. I hope that you have a really nice day!

And if you are looking for a different poster to send out about rodenticides, here is another. All our creatures will thank you for spreading the word. This is especially good if you live near a Bald Eagle nest.

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