This week at Macquarie Island: 29 November 2019

Spying on four breeds of magnificent albatross

Time in the field with Albert and Ross

Four species of albatross breed on Macca: wandering, grey-headed, black-browed and light-mantled sooty.

Wandering albatross have a longer breeding cycle than the other three species, laying eggs in December and chick fledging starting in November the following year. Most grey-headed and light-mantled sooty albatross tend to breed every second year following a successful breeding attempt, while black-browed albatross tend to breed every year. These three species have a shorter breeding season over the spring and summer, returning to the island in late September and chicks fledging between February and May.

This month, Macca Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service (TasPWS) Rangers and one extremely helpful Senior Field Training Officer spent the first half of November in the field monitoring the breeding populations of the grey-headed, black-browed and light-mantled sooty albatross in the south-west corner of the island.

This work involved searching for active nests (nests with eggs) and marking them so the summer wildlife ranger can come back in January and check whether a chick has hatched, and return at the end of summer to count how many chicks have survived to fledging.

Albatross populations throughout the Southern Hemisphere face a number of threats, including incidental mortality in fishing operations, disease, and changes to breeding success and food availability with climate change.

Marine debris may also impact populations. Albatross will regurgitate food for their chicks after foraging at sea and any indigestible material such as squid beaks and plastic may be regurgitated by the chick near the nest.

This season a plastic bottle cap from a water bottle was found at an old nest site, most likely fed to a chick by a parent. This isn’t the first time plastic fragments have been seen at albatross nests. In 2018, rangers observed plastic fragments being regurgitated by two albatross chicks. 

Fortunately, plastic is not commonly found at albatross nests on Macquarie Island (unlike their Pacific cousins), however, each year we record all observations to monitor if this prevalence is changing.

Wildlife monitoring on Macca can be strenuous and time consuming work and couldn’t be achieved without the help of keen volunteers.

Thanks to all the Macca winter team who helped the Tas PWS Rangers this season, whether that was wading through the soaking featherbed, pushing up a tussock hill or swapping a slushy – we appreciate it!

Stella – Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service Ranger 

A black browed albatross sits on a nest on the edge of a steep cliff
A black browed albatross with a room with a view
(Photo: Stella Thomas)
a red plastic bottle top sits amongst grass and dirt
A plastic bottle cap found at a nest site
(Photo: Andrea Turbett)
A woman sits on a grassy cliff edge observing a grey headed albatross on a nest
An interview with a grey headed albatross
(Photo: Andrea Turbett)
a grey headed albatross appears to be looking down at the metal bands around its legs
A grey headed albatross kindly reading out its band numbers
(Photo: Andrea Turbett)
three women stand on the edge of a steep cliff with the southern ocean behind them
The albatross monitoring team of 2019
(Photo: Andrea Turbett)
A light mantled albatross sits on a nest in front of green cabbage leaf
Light mantled albatross are the most common breed at Macquarie Island
(Photo: Stella Thomas)
Two black browed albatross sit near each other on a grassy cliff edge
Black browed albatross form pair bonds-the only albatross on the island to…
(Photo: Stella Thomas)
two people walk up a steep tussock cliff overlooking a bay
Albatross on Macca tend to nest at the most remote corners of…
(Photo: Andrea Turbett)
a fluffy white albatross chick sits on a nest covered in a dusting of snow
Wandering albatross chick hatched in April and stayed on its nest all…
(Photo: Stella Thomas)
tow grey headed albatross sit near each other on a grassy slope
Grey headed albatross taking a shift swap to incubate an egg
(Photo: Stella Thomas)