Year round, its nesting season somewhere! Right now our focus is on
birds “down under”, and we have the privilege to see the intimate but brief land-life of the largest seabird in the world — a Northern Royal Albatross pair in Taiaroa Head, New Zealand — with a most spectacular view via this Cornell nestcam. It’s possible to watch the entire nesting season of a single pair of these pelagic (seafaring) birds as they spend their only annual land-based time on the nest. The rest of their time is spent entirely on the wing. This 21 year old male and a 25 year old female are currently sharing incubation duties on an egg she laid November 14.
You can tell these 2 birds apart by their bands – the male is OGK (banded Orange, Green, Black) and female YRK (banded Yellow, Red, Black). And you will notice the “tag-team” effort they have created to incubate the egg so it is always covered. Once the egg has hatched and the chick is big enough to be left alone for longer periods of time, a different routine arises. This routine gets them back over the water – often both birds at the same time – searching for food for sometimes over a week as it takes a lot of food to raise even one chick. The team change doesn’t happen daily, as each bird may need many days to find food, returning to land to briefly feed the chick. Then it’s back to hunting, and the chick is alone until the other parent arrives for another quick meal delivery.
Albatrosses are found flying over water in the southern and some in the northern oceans, and this species is spectacular for many reasons – especially for their size. With a wing-span of over 9 feet, they can lock their wings and fly for months at a time without ever touching land– easily sailing day and night over the ocean. In fact, this is what they are made to do, and they are a bit clumsy on the ground.
This breeding location in New Zealand is where the oldest known albatross, Wisdom, raised a chick when she was 62 years of age! Long lived, this species can be vulnerable as they only lay one egg every 2 years, and it takes 8-9 months to raise the chick. They can also be affected by all sorts of issues like warming waters (driving their food sources farther from land and causing them to have to fly further to feed their chicks), fishing boats which do not use bird-safe practices and drown many albatrosses each year, storms which can wipe out an entire nesting colony, etc. For a full species account of Northern Royal Albatross, check out the New Zealand Department of Conservation website.
Enjoy watching this wonderful cam – it should be active through August so you can see the entire land-life of this remarkable species!