Every year since the late 1970s the north and west shores of Kauai have been home to these amazing birds. The Laysan albatross fly in during the month of November to mate and have their young. It is an exciting time of year for the Princeville neighborhood. This is because when chicks are born on island they are tagged and named by the resident whose yard was home to the newborn. Neighbors anxiously await to see which birds have survived the summer and fall months. The birds return to where they were born after three to four years of exploring the ocean.
Once back on island couples build a nest and the female lays her 9 ounce egg. In 2016 we had five eggs hatch within a block of Honu Point. The parents take turns sitting on the egg for close to two months until the chick “pips” his/her way out of the egg.
During their time off of the nest the adult birds are searching for food, socializing with others, or soaring on the wind currents. These three in the photo below were resting at the foot of our driveway watching many others in the cul-de-sac. From the oceanside windows of Honu Point one can watch the graceful flight of these majestic birds with a wing span of up to 7 feet.
Those birds who have not yet found their match do their best to impress. The mating dance is quite entertaining to watch with many high pitched sounds and matching movements done side by side. If they find the perfect match they commit to life, mate, and give birth to a young chick the following year at the same location.
The nests are made on the lawns or under bushes in the yards of houses along Kaweonui and Keoniana Roads, as well as other spots within the Princeville Resort area. The chicks are born with layers of fluff feathers. At this point one of the adults must fly 800 to 1600 miles away in order to search for food to bring back to the baby. This round trip takes appoximately three weeks at which time he/she regurgitates some food and oil into the baby’s throat for nourishment. The second adult then takes off on the same journey while the first provider rests with the youngster. This alternating schedule goes on for months while the chick grows and a stream of tourists arrive to take photos of the fluffballs.
Eventually the chick starts losing its fluff and develops flight feathers. By July all that’s left of the down feathers is a lei around its neck and some on its head. At this time Mom or Dad provides the last meal in order to entice the baby to fledge. Fledglings can be seen practicing wing movement in the yards and in the street within a few houses of Honu Point. It’s as if they are trying to understand just how the wind is going to work for them.
At some point they decide it’s time to find the bluff. Having never seen the ocean before they start walking around the neighborhood looking for the perfect cliff from which to jump. They generally choose either the point across from Honu Point or our very own bluff. Here they wait for hours or sometimes days until just the right moment to take the giant leap of faith. When they do, eye witnesses hold their breath in hopes that they will catch the wind and soar off over the ocean. From there they must fly the 800 to 1600 miles to search for and catch the live squid and fish eggs their parents have so faithfully been bringing back to them.
Vinney (photo credit to our neighbor Robert Waid) was one of the fledglings who chose to fly off the bluff right outside the master bedroom at Honu Point in 2015.
Hopefully Vinney is alive and well but we won’t know for a few years. These birds can process salt water through their nasal cavaties and therefore do not return to land for at least three years. We have our fingers crossed that we’ll see Vinney again in 2018 when he comes back to Kaweonui Road to find his mate. In the meantime we will welcome all the others in November when they return from their northern journeys to entertain us all on Kaweonui Road.
Holy Moli, Albatross and Other Ancestors by Hob Osterlund
Majestic Albatross of Kauai by Robert Waid
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