Post Guard Stage 2020

Good morning everyone!

We are well into the breeding season now with the albatross chicks mostly in post guard stage. We have 24 chicks in the colony at this time and the post guard stage can often be worrisome for those of us watching the albatross world go by… the chicks are suddenly open to a number of new threats and seemingly all alone out there. Luckily we have the dedicated DoC (Department of Conservation) team here to work with the colony, putting our minds to rest that these birds are under watchful and knowledgeable eyes!

Albatross tours at the moment are operating between 10.30am and 6pm daily (subject to availability) and are seeing 3 of the albatross nesting sites on view from our exclusive observatory. We have had an increase in cruise ships visiting Dunedin this year with a few cancellations due to high wind conditions, rough seas and/or foggy skies. Generally speaking we have been seeing some great activity on tours lately (especially on tours that have a good wind too), with the ‘teenage’ albatross hanging around the colony socializing and being particularly nosy towards the chicks who are now somewhat defenseless against these inquisitive big birds. The chicks this season have once again all been DNA tested to determine their genders, the RoyalCam chick this season is a female but the majority of the colonies chicks this season are males. The last few seasons we have been a little heavy towards the female side each season so it is nice to see a few extra male chicks this season to balance it back out.

The Royal Albatross Centre is operated by NZ’s oldest not for profit charitable conservation trust, the Otago Peninsula Trust, and we are involved in some great upcoming events which offer some neat one off events and discounted tours – keep an eye out for:

  • Wild Dunedin (17-23 April 2020)
  • The Science Festival (3-12 July 2020)
  • Plastic Free July

Pictured: RoyalCam chick as seen in the post guard stage this morning while it's parents are both out at sea foraging for food for her.

Plastic – The albatrosses food source is mostly squid but these magnificent sea birds are scavengers so anything floating on the surface is at risk of being picked up by them. In this way plastics are a big problem for albatross as plastics have a tendency to float which is of course where our albatross find their food and they are often accidentally ingested by them because of this. Plastics are a big issue particularly for the breeding birds, as the parents pick items up and then pass their contents on to their chicks who are bound to the headland until they themselves are big enough and strong enough to make use of their newly developed 3 metre wingspan. There was a story recently of a deceased albatross washed up on shore up north in NZ and a necropsy revealed an entire 500ml plastic bottle ingested! Here at our colony in the 2018/19 breeding season, we collected the regurgitations of the albatross chicks and plastic fragments were found in 14 of the 16 regurgitations.

Predators – The area these albatross nest in (Taiaroa Head Reserve) is unfortunately not predator free – this is due to the location and the other wildlife that call the area home as well. Unfortunately this season we have lost an albatross chick recently due to a stoat attack, this is the first predation of the albatross chicks here on the mainland since 1997! Other predators include ferrets, weasels, cats and rats here and all of these are pests in NZ and are trapped for here on the headland 365 days a year. Of course prior to the area becoming a nature reserve humans were the biggest threat as the first albatross to land here and try and breed were harassed, stoned and had eggs stolen.

Reminder: The RoyalCam chick as pictured above is available for viewing via live stream which operates 24/7 (https://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-animals/birds/birds-a-z/albatrosses/royal-albatross-toroa/royal-cam/) and this shows us a wonderful glimpse into the life of an albatross here on the headland.