Twenty-eight northern royal albatross chicks successfully fledged from Pukekura/Taiaroa Head – a record for the headland. Department of Conservation ranger Jim Watts says the record season has been a rollercoaster, with extreme weather, a large number of eggs, missing parents and flystrike among the season’s challenges.
“Compared to last season, we saw a 35% increase in eggs laid. During the busy egg hatching period DOC doubled up rangers at the colony at critical times and covered 12-14 hours per day.”
During incubation, eggs can be found abandoned, parents may not incubate the egg properly or birds may stay at sea for long periods leaving their partner sitting on the nest unable to forage at sea.
To combat this, DOC uses artificial egg incubators, albatross foster nests, dummy eggs and supplementary feeding. This season seven chicks were raised by foster parents and all successfully fledged, Jim says.
“This season four eggs were found abandoned, three of which were found cold first thing in the morning. We were able to slowly warm these eggs up before placing them in an egg incubator until a foster nest became available. These four eggs all survived and successfully hatched.”
Extreme weather also created challenges – particularly the long period of hot weather which increases the chance of flystrike in chicks.
“This season 10 chicks were treated for flystrike, some of them up to four times. While flystrike tends to only be an issue for chicks in the first week of life, this season we had a case of flystrike in a chick at three weeks of age as the hot, calm temperatures continued into the season.”
Despite these challenges, the end result of 28 new albatross taking to the skies makes it all worth it, Jim says.
“The Department of Conservation would like to thank Te Poari a Pukekura Trust and Otago Peninsula Trust for their continued support throughout the season. Staff at the Royal Albatross Centre regularly assist weighing and supplementary feeding chicks and OPT supply the water used to cool the birds down which all needs to be trucked in. Thanks also goes to Penguin Place and New Zealand King Salmon who kindly donate all the fish used to feed the albatross.”
While this season has now wrapped up, DOC staff already have an eye on the future with preparations underway for the 19/20 season.
“Twenty-two adults have already returned to the headland ahead of this summer’s breeding season so we’re well underway. Thanks to the help of our partners and everyone involved in supporting this species we’re hoping for another productive season.”
- Northern royal albatross/toroa are an icon of Dunedin with a conservation status of ‘at risk – naturally uncommon’. They are a taonga species for Ngāi Tahu.
- With a wingspan of over three metres, northern royal albatrosses are among the largest seabirds in the world.
- The Pukekura/Taiaroa Head albatross colony is the only mainland place in the world to view northern royal albatross in their natural habitat.
- DOC manages the albatross colony with the support of the Otago Peninsula Trust, Te Poari a Pukekura (Pukekura Co-management Trust) and Dunedin City Council. It has grown from one breeding pair in 1937 to about 67 pairs in 2018.