Royal fans worldwide are thrilled as the first northern royal albatross chick of the 2019/20 breeding season was welcomed at the Royal Albatross Colony at Pukekura/Taiaroa Head on January 16. In a Dunedin tradition a ‘Happy Birthday’ flag is flying from the Dunedin City Council’s Mayoral Flagpole to celebrate the beginning of an exciting time for the city.
Department of Conservation (DOC) Ranger Sharyn Broni says “It’s an exciting time of year when the first chick hatches and signifies the start of the busiest time of year for DOC rangers. While the rest of New Zealand is hoping for warmer weather and sunshine, we are hoping for the cool breezy weather to continue to help with successful hatching. Albatross chicks are very vulnerable to hot weather especially in their first few days”.
Marketing Manager Royal Albatross Centre Sophie Barker says “This year we’ve introduced a new tradition. We’re donating a lifetime membership to the Otago Peninsula Trust for the first baby born on the day the first albatross hatches for the season. Its particularly appropriate as 2020 is the Year of the Seabird, and the albatross is definitely the monarch of the seabird kingdom”.
“This is a wonderful time to visit the colony as there are several albatross nests within view of our observatory. The gorgeous white fluffy chicks are eagerly awaited by our team who love sharing the exhilaration of seeing Dunedin’s royals – the awesome albatross”.
Sophie adds “Fans have been avidly watching the internationally famous Royalcam couple YRK and OGK waiting for the new celebrity chick to hatch, which we expect around February 1st. Albatross watchers have also been entertained by ‘teenage’ albatross courting, partying and looking for love. The Royalcam has a huge fanbase around the world; we receive many visitors keen to see the royals for themselves and engage with our conservation”.
DOC Ranger Sharyn Broni comments “The Royalcam is a great tool for engaging people with conservation. We’ve had millions of views from nearly 200 countries around the world. Our collaboration with Cornell Lab Bird Cams has extended the viewership; the quality of the camera is stunning. Donations from the Givealittle page on the Royalcam site are helping with albatross care, including irrigation, supplementary feeding supplies and animal husbandry equipment”.
Summer heat can be a challenge for nesting albatross and young chicks as overheating and fly strike can cause mortality. DOC Rangers work longer hours over this crucial time to ensure the best chances for successful hatching. Fly strike, where fly maggots burrow into hatching embryos or chicks, heat stress and infections are major ricks and constant monitoring is essential.
Otago Peninsula Trust CEO Robyn McDonald says “We’re concerned about increasingly hot summers and the effect it has on albatross chicks. Our trust helps with albatross care through providing water for the nest irrigation system. All our water is trucked in which costs us around $40,000 a year. We raise money through our tours, donations and staff volunteer time”.
141 albatross have been spotted this year since the official season start in September.
Sophie Barker, Marketing Manager, Otago Peninsula Trust 022 601 2778
Albatross at Pukekura
The colony is home to around 250 Northern Royal Albatross, who, once mature, breed every two years. Overall there have been more than 650 chicks fledged from Pukekura since the first chick was successfully reared in 1938.
Pukekura albatrosses are unique in that their colony is the only place in the world where a mainland breeding colony can be viewed:
- Northern Royal Albatross is a taonga species, valued and admired by New Zealanders and international visitors
- Viewing iconic royal albatrosses at Pukekura contributes to the $100 million eco-tourism in Dunedin.
- Otago Peninsula Trust, Dunedin’s pioneering ecotourism operator, began albatross tours in 1972 at the Royal Albatross Centre. The Trust, formed in 1967, celebrated its 50th birthday in 2017.
- Northern Royal Albatross are one of the world’s largest seabirds, with a wingspan of up to three metres. One of the longest living birds in the world, regularly living into their 40s. Average lifespan is 25
- Albatross spend 80% of their life at sea, returning only to land to breed.
- Eggs laid October/November. Incubation time 75-86 days (average 79) Chicks raised Jan/Feb to Aug/Sept/Oct
- Albatross top speed is around 110kph
- Northern Royal Albatross Body Length 1.2metres approx, Weight 6-8 kilograms
Otago Peninsula Trust was formed in 1967 and is New Zealand’s first private charitable conservation Trust.
The Trust is a major ecotourism operator, hosting over 200,000 visitors annually to its award winning enterprises:
- The Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head; The world’s only mainland Royal Albatross breeding colony
- Historic Fort Taiaroa, underground fortifications with world’s only fully restored 1889 Armstrong disappearing gun
- Glenfalloch Woodland Garden. Stunning 1871 historic garden. Seasonal displays.
- Glenfalloch Restaurants; Top 10 Dunedin Restaurant. Dining, Weddings, functions and conferences.
- Fletcher House, Edwardian villa built in 1909 by Sir James Fletcher (management contract)
- Pukekura Blue Penguins, World’s smallest penguin, evening viewing tours (joint venture Korako Karetai whanau)
- Education Programmes: Interactive student focussed LEOTC in natural environments.
http://otagopeninsulatrust.co.nz/ 50 Stories podcasts: