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February 11, 2002

Love on the open seas

Albatrosses together after being released separately

Ten years ago, Jay Holcomb banded a Laysan Albatross that ended up at International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC). Five years later he banded another wayward bird that also ended up at the Bay area based center. Both birds were taken out to sea and released. The chance that these two birds, would become lovebirds and end up at his center again, many years later, is akin to winning the lottery. Especially since their breeding grounds are a few tiny islands 2,800 miles west of San Francisco.

“We suspect they're a mated pair because of the displaying and brood patch on the female's breast. And we know their history because of their federal bands. But how do you explain the fate of the two of them ending up at our center, together. Again?” asked Holcomb, director of IBRRC.

See: Photos

The birds are getting some R&R and waterproofing before their release, which will occur out at sea. The center, which specializes in the rehabilitation of sea birds and waterfowl, found the birds in good health, but not totally waterproof.

“This is probably due to the fact they were on a barge, which they most likely mistook for an island,” Holcomb speculates. “We want to make sure their feathers are in perfect condition before we release them.”

IBRRC's experience with Laysan Albatross is rather extraordinary. Back in March of 1979, a Laysan Albatross, whose wing feathers had been cut off, was found wandering the streets of San Francisco. The bird, named "Munch" because of its extremely aggressive behavior, made rehabilitation history by being the first known albatross to have its feathers replaced, a process known as imping. Munch was flown to Midway Island, the major breeding place
of Laysans, and released.

Nine years later, a seabird biologist studying a new breeding colony of about a dozen pairs of albatross on Isla Guadalupe, a group of small islands off of Baja California, noticed that one had a federal band. It was Munch. A week later, a photo of Munch, sitting on an egg, arrived in the mail. The discovery that Munch was alive, and a parent as well, was a dream come true for the rehabilitators at the center.

Laysan Albatross, which have a wingspan of over seven feet, are known to travel thousands of miles in search of food. Although millions were killed for their feathers in early 1900, the species is not considered endangered. However, many chicks die due to the ingestion of plastics. Long-lines also take a terrible toll on the birds.

The population of approximately 600,000 breeding pairs spends their lives at sea, only coming on land to lay a single egg, every year or every other year. They don't begin breeding until eight years of age and then courtship lasts two years. Mates meet up to lay a single soda-can size egg, which they take turns incubating, sitting for as long as three weeks while the other feeds at sea.

Once hatched, which can take as long as six days of pipping, chicks can wait for two weeks for their parent to return with a meal. Once fledged, they fly out to sea and may never touch land again for years. Everything about them is long, their wings, their courtship, their breeding seasons, the distances they cover and their lives, which if they are lucky, can last five decades or longer.

More info:

Audubon Magazine story on albatrosses

Long Lines, Short lives – article on bird deaths from long line fishing.

Remembering Munch – IBRRC's most famous Albatross and bird rehab project

Return to list of press releases

Media contact:

Karen Benzel

Office: (831) 622-7588

E-mail: karen@ibrrc.org


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