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Endangered albatross hatches at Midway Atoll

January 10, 2014 - 10:13pm

A short-tailed albatross chick hatched Wednesday at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge on Eastern Island within the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, federal wildlife officials reported Thursday.

The short-tailed albatross is one of the most endangered seabird species in the world, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pacific Islands office in Honolulu. The bird features a golden head and regal stature that is much larger than its cousin, the Laysan albatross that nests on Midway by the hundreds of thousands.

“A year ago last fall, the male returned and patiently waited but the female returned too late in the season and did not lay an egg,” refuge biologist Pete Leary said in a prepared statement. “We were therefore thrilled when this past fall a remote camera technician sighted the female reuniting with the patiently waiting male that appeared the week before.”

Both parents took on the brooding duties, as they have in the past, exchanging places approximately every two weeks, the service said. When away from the nest, the parent, which has an 8.5-foot wingspan, covers thousands of miles between Midway Atoll Refuge and nutrient-rich waters some 1,000 miles to the north to gather food to feed its chick and self.

Midway Atoll Refuge Manager Dan Clark said in the prepared statement that the service is excited, but guardedly optimistic the chick will survive to fledge. The short-tailed albatross will depend on both parents for its growth, however, Clark noted that floating plastic debris intermixed with albatross food sources in the ocean may be swallowed by adults and later fed to chicks, potentially compromising the bird’s well-being.

“However, this couple has raised two short-tailed albatross chicks that have survived to the fledging stage so we know this chick has attentive and experienced parents. Along with the hazards of plastic and other human caused impacts they face the risk of death so each successful fledging is cause to celebrate.”

The nest site is continuously monitored by refuge staff via a remote camera controlled on nearby Sand Island, the service said.

“For the first time we will be able to post online video clips of the parents caring for the chick,” said Ann Bell, refuge visitor services manager.

This is only the third hatching in recorded history of a short-tailed albatross any place other than two small islands near Japan. Two of the chicks hatched at the refuge. The 27-year-old male and 11-year-old female first met six years ago near their current nest site, according to the service.

The pair raised their first chick in 2011, successfully fledging despite large storm waves in January and the March 2011 Japanese tsunami that washed the young bird from its nest site twice before it was able to fly, the service said.

Once the most abundant albatross species in the North Pacific, short-tailed albatross were hunted for feathers and by 1949 were thought to be extinct. A few birds were seen nesting on the Japanese island of Torishima in the early 1950s and protection soon followed, the service said. Thanks to international treaties and the work of Japanese researchers, the short-tailed albatross population is on the road to recovery with more than 2,200 existing on three Pacific islands.

To view a video clip of the chick, visit usfwspacific.tumblr.com/post/72881378762/at-last-the-first-video-of-a-brand-new-rare-and.