Albatross: Looking for Land in All the Wrong Places

The Stowaway Albatross on its Second Return to the Ocean

Earlier this year we told you about a Laysan Albatross that came into the Port of Los Angeles on a ship as a “stowaway” – as they sometimes do – mistaking the vessel as a nesting island. That Albatross was examined, found to be healthy, and with the help of a lifeguard boat, promptly released at sea. With the entire Pacific Ocean to call home, it amazingly made the same mistake again! After landing on another ship, this bird came back into port two months after its first release, and was brought to International Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Center for evaluation. Our staff, recognizing it by the number on the metal band we’d placed around its leg, quickly re-released this healthy bird in open water, where it would have the long water runway it requires to take flight.

“Broody” Albatrosses, urgently seeking a place to nest, typically show up from March through May. Anyone who raises chickens will know that when a hen becomes broody she will sit on a nest and nothing can get her to move. This hormonal urge overrides all common sense. Albatrosses do essentially the same thing.

The Albatross in Care at International Bird Rescue in January

Biologists have told me that young, first-time nesting Albatrosses will often venture out and try to colonize new islands. To these inexperienced birds, islands and ships can look a lot alike. Their powerful instinct to nest has them making decisions that are not always in their best interest, and some of the adventures this leads to can be pretty astonishing.

The best illustration is probably the story of two Laysan Albatrosses that arrived at International Bird Rescue’s San Francisco Bay Center five years apart. Both birds were banded, taken out to sea and released. As their breeding grounds are a few tiny islands 2,800 miles west of San Francisco, chances were astronomical that these two birds would find one another, become lovebirds, nest on a ship together, and then find their way back into our care.

When they arrived, we recognized them by their band numbers and suspected that they were, in fact, a mated pair because of their behavior and the brood patch on the female’s breast. These aquatic birds were in good health, but not totally waterproof, probably due to their unnatural journey on a ship. We kept them in care until their feathers were back in perfect condition. The pair was then released again at sea to continue their lives together.

International Bird Rescue is committed to ensuring that the animals in our care stay wild. When they falter, we are happy to give them a helping hand, but we are also careful to do everything in our power to make sure that these birds have the freedom to make their own choices, and ultimately find their own way to thrive in the wild. Like humans in need, animals in need are called patients for a reason, and International Bird Rescue is happy to be just as patient with our returning birds as we are with first timers – every bird matters, and every bird has its own path back into the wild.

Thank you for continuing to help us offer the aquatic birds and seabirds that arrive at our centers the help they deserve to set off on their individual paths with the best possible chance of continued health and a wild life.

Jay Holcomb
Director Emeritus
International Bird Rescue

A Second Chance to Try Again