By Jim Watts, Ranger Biodiversity
The Royal albatross is one of the largest seabirds in the world. There are two species of royal albatross, the Southern royal and Northern royal. We are extremely privileged to host a Northern royal albatross colony at Pukekura/Taiaroa Head.
A record number of fifty-one eggs have been laid this season. Even though it’s early days, the team are preparing for a larger number of chicks.
We’re getting more excited each time we find another egg as hopefully this means a higher hatch rate to make up for last year’s poor season. Last year we only had 13 chicks fledge because of the extreme weather conditions compared with the 26 and 23 chicks fledged over the last two years.
However, even though breeding usually takes place on a two-year cycle, birds whose nests fail early in the season will sometimes return the following season to breed again. This explains the increase in nest and egg numbers we’ve seen this year.
Even in the egg stage there are challenges as eggs can be infertile, early embryo deaths can occur while some eggs are found broken in the nest. But with such a high number of eggs we’re hopeful this will be our best breeding season yet with lots of fluffy chicks hatched. Royal cam fans and visitors to the Royal Albatross Centre are in for a treat as we watch this year’s chick hatch and another generation of albatross grow up in this special place.
Some of our favourite memories from last season were watching the webcam chick, later named Amīria, hold her own amongst the feisty non-breeders who came to check her out. Amīria got her name through the Name the Chick competition which last season had the theme of female explorers. Amīria being the Te Reo version of Amelia Earhart. The Royal cam also captured some of the chicks taking their first flight and fledging in September. This was enjoyed by the viewers and is a remarkable part of the life cycle that is not often witnessed by many people. What are some of your favourite memories from last season’s hatchings?
The camera has now been moved closer to a nest so that the hatching progress can be livestreamed. The chicks are expected to start hatching mid-January and you can watch the entire breeding season progress on Royal cam.
We’re also excited to be using some new equipment this season thanks to the amazing generosity of visitors to the colony as well as donations from a Givealittle page set up by the Otago Peninsula Trust.
Chicks will be kept cool with a new irrigation system that was installed to be able to withstand the extreme weather conditions faced on Pukekura/ Taiaroa Head. Irrigation is crucial on hot, dry days to keep the birds cool. We also have new egg-candling, supplementary feeding equipment. Donations should cover the cost of squid supplies for the rest of the season till the last chicks fledge around early October next year.
Two new incubators to help improve albatross breeding season management at the colony were purchased by the Te Poāri a Pukekura (TPP). The TPP is a joint management group for Pukekura made up of rūnanga members, Korako Karetai Trust, Dunedin City Council and the Department of Conservation.
Thank you to everyone for their support so far and make sure to keep an eye on the Royal cam and discussion board in the coming weeks now that it has been moved closer to a nest.
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