Curious Albatross – Community Questions Answered

Thank you all again for joining our first online event “Evening with a Curious Albatross” that we hosted last Friday June 25th. Caren Loebel-Fried told us so much about the Albatross and we were all fascinated learning about her experience on the Midway Atoll.

If you missed the live event, you can watch it now!

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If you would like to purchase Caren’s wonderful book, you can do so here: 

Answers to Your Questions

We can all agree that 1 hour was not enough! You all had wonderful questions and we sadly didn’t have time to answer them all. But, Caren took the time to review them all afterwards and she shared her answers with us!

Directly from Caren:

Thanks for all of the great questions! We tried to reorganize them by themes. Here are my answers:

Mating, Nesting and Chicks

Do Albatross ever foster chicks are abandoned? By Marie Kazan-Komarek

  • Louise Barnfield: It has happened, but not often. I know of one case in HI some years ago.
  • I confirmed with Louise, so YES, there are rare cases of adoptions!

After an Albatross chick fledges where do they go? I understand they go out to sea for several years but do they ever land somewhere? by Barb Henry

When a chick fledges, she does not go to land until returning to her birth island 4-5 years later.

Do black footed and laysan ever cross breed ? by Danila Mehta

You do see some hybrids on Midway. Actually, I saw a lot more this past season than my first time in 2015! It isn’t known yet if the hybrids have themselves successfully bred. 

What does a baby Albatross look like? By Tom Salet

A fuzzy brown little cutie!! I don’t have my own video, but Cornell Lab has many nest cams, and there is one in New Zealand on a Royal albatross nest. Here.

If they mate for life, what about Wisdom, banded in the 5’s that is still breeding? Same mate?

She’s had a few mates, after losing a mate she finds a new mate.

Do they nest on any other islands? By Jim Fithian

They do! Albatross nest on a couple of other Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Black-footed albatross nest on a small island off Japan, and Laysan off Mexico. More info here.

How do they learn those dances? By Jim

They observe other albatross dancing, but also seem to “know” something about dancing intrinsically. Maybe it’s like walking to us…?

During their mating dance, why do the tuck their beak under their wing? By Lily Perkocha

Isn’t that the cutest thing? It’s a cool dance maneuver, don’t you think? I’m going to try and incorporate it in my own moves on the dance floor!! Sorry for being so silly- I think it’s just something they do, like the way we dance our dances… Why so we raise our hands into the air? etc….

Since it is Pride month are there any LGBTQ+ albatross? By Morgan Rardin

YES!!!! There are many recorded female couples! Here is an article and a paper on this.

How many times would they pair off for dancing evaluation before choosing the mate for life? By Chris Romero

I think they do a lot of dancing and prospecting before finding the right mate, and of course it has to be mutual… 

How do they move the eggs to different islands? By Ana

Very carefully, in special crates… Here is a great description by Pacific Rim Conservation, the organization doing the translocation program.

If one female albatross fails to find a mate, can she reproduce by parthenogenesis?

Even if she could, she wouldn’t be able to raise a chick alone. It takes two albatross to incubate an egg and raise a chick.

Does the albatross use an old nest or always make a new one? By Katie

Generally, the nest disappears during the course of the year when not in use. But albatross return to the nest site area and usually build a nest within 5 feet of last year’s nest!

How many eggs do they lay? By Jim

Just one per nesting season.

Dangers to the Albatross

What is the most important thing we can do to help secure the future success of the Albatross species? by Christopher Scott Elkins

Any of the following things are a great help to albatross:

  • Don’t use single-use plastic, reduce overall plastic use (recycling is a last resort)
  • Use less energy to reduce climate change and sea-level rise
  • Only buy safely caught seafood  

I’m mostly concerned about micro plastics pollution can we do more to prevent plastics from getting in to local rivers and streams primarily inner-city stuff? Personally and pick up cigarette butts birds mistaken as cotton or fluff up, use for their nest material Washing our clothing produces tremendous amounts of micro plastics I use nylon stocking as a filter to prevent it from going into sewer. By Jerry Freitas

I’m concerned, too! Thanks for your efforts!

What predators come after them? By BlancaDave Fithian

Currently, house mice are the most dangerous predators. Mosquitoes are also dangerous to albatross- Mosquito bites pass on infections to albatross.

Why do they eat plastic?

Biologists have told me, they are eating Flying fish eggs attached to the plastic. So they aren’t really wanting to eat plastic necessarily. For adults, it the plastic isn’t big (like a toothbrush- yes, lots of albatross are found with a toothbrush in their stomachs or throats) most adults can vomit all indigestible in their bolus. But chicks are too small, and the plastic stays in their stomachs…

Sightseeing an Albatross

Where can you see them in California? by Wendy

You can see Black-footed albatross off-shore in the Bay area pretty regularly, and all along the west coast. There are less common sighting of Laysan Albatross as well. And some even venture inland- This past March, a Laysan landed in a field in Santa Cruz! It was found to be in good health, so they brought it out to sea on a boat and released it. For the release, they were greeted by a bunch of Black-footed albatross! My friend wrote the whole wonderful story here.

Any Albatross off the east coast of the U.S.? By Mark Parker

There have been very rare sightings of albatross in the North Atlantic, but these are extremely uncommon.

How would you know it’s an albatross and not just a big gull? Don’t know if we’ve seen them in Pacifica or not! By Jim Fithian

It’s difficult recognizing differences. First of all they fly differently. Albatross wings are longer and thinner. And they do look different if you see them up closer. But it’s easy to be tricked- sometimes I think I see a Laysan along the Coastal Trail in HMB and get all excited!!! But it has always turned out to be “just” a gull ;>) !!!

Life of an Albatross

When is the Albatross’ breeding season and what is their diet? by Lily Perkocha

They breed Nov, chick fledge in the summer. They eat mostly squid, also flying fish eggs and some crustaceans.

They seem similar to Pelicans, are they in the same family of bird etc.? By Morgan Rardin

There are some similarities! But they are not related.

Why do they touch the water? When they fly near the waves. By Jim Fithian

I don’t know if there is a purpose! But it looks like fun, and very graceful and beautiful…

How long is their lifespan? By Natalie and Hilary Mcarthur

We know they live longer than 69 years because of Wisdom! But it’s not known how old they can live exactly. You can track Wisdom here.

Where does an Albatross spend most of it’s time the ground or the sky? By Rosalia Galindo

Albatross spend most of their time in the air, flying. They also float on the ocean when they are hunting for food, bathing…

How do they get water? Can they drink SALT water? By Ana Garcia

They have adapted to drink salt water, and the excess salt drips from the holes at the tops of their bills. They are sometimes called “tube-nosed” because of this feature!

I heard they also adapted to sleep in the air? By Jim

Yes! Isn’t that cool?! They can sleep on the wing! Part of their brain is still awake, but part is in sleep mode…


How difficult is the process to become a volunteer? by Celine

Applying to be a “counter” involves some writing, and is very competitive because there are very few spots only once a year (because the plane that goes to Midway usually only 2x a month) is currently a 9-seater… But the experience is well worth the effort. Here is the link to apply.

Did you have lots of people counting? 6k?? By Ana Garcia

No! Only 13 of us completely the last count. Hatch Year 2015 there were 19 of us.

When on Midway, besides counting, did you have other related tasks? Such as rodent observation and eradication? By Chris Romero

After the count, I helped with some out-planting of native grasses and beach clean-ups. I applied to the coming mouse eradication, working with the Laysan Ducks, but because of Covid-19, the eradication is postponed.

Is there an active banding program on Midway? By Ann S

Not every single albatross is banded, but there are several surveys going on… so many do get banded. It’s pretty cool- when counting on Midway, we also check for unusual bands. Sometimes we find birds from Kaua’i, or Japan!

Caren’s Video We Mentioned

Over the evening, we referred to the video that Caren had made. In this video, you will discover a few things you probably didn’t know about the Albatross and also how Caren uses her carved wood blocks to create her book illustrations.

Links We Shared in the Chat

We shared a couple links in the Chat, but in case you missed them, here they are again:

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