Albatross chick, father settle into new digs

High on a bluff at Crater Hill in the Kilauea Point National Wild-life Refuge, two Laysan albatrosses displaced from their Princeville nest are quietly adapting to their new surroundings.

The two, a father and his chick, are now in the care of members of a Japanese research team hand-rearing 10 albatross chicks born on Midway Atoll in an experiment to see if relocation of certain endangered and threatened species can work in Japan.

From the hillside, the chicks can see the ocean they will one day patrol, and feel the stiff trade winds that will carry them there.

So, too, can Longshot, the 18-year-old adult male albatross.

His return to the sea, however, is less likely.

Last Friday, Longshot was struck by a car on Ka Haku Road in Princeville, shattering his left wing.

Upon Longshot’s arrival at Pegasus Veterinary Clinic in Moloa’a, Dr. Scott Sims inserted several pins in the bird’s left upper wing bone.

Sims put the bird’s chances of flying again at one in four, hence the new name.

Unfortunately for Longshot, his livelihood depends on his ability to fly. But things are looking good so far.

“He is alert, strong and feisty,” said Brenda Zaun, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who assisted Sims in the surgery.

On Tuesday, Zaun brought Longshot back to Sims for his first post-op exam and bandage change.

“He was very pleased,” Zaun said. “No indication of infection, no swelling. Although it will be months before we know if it is healing correctly (for Longshot) to fly again, so far, so good.”

Tomoko Harada, a member of the Japanese Midway team, is feeding both Longshot and Prince daily, as well as administering Longshot’s antibiotics twice per day.

“She has been a tremendous help to me in caring for this bird,” Zaun said.

Zaun said Longshot will likely stay in the pen she built for him throughout his recovery, though she will eventually expand it.

“For now, we don’t want him walking around too much, which could damage or tear the bandage,” she said.

While Longshot’s activity is limited to preening himself (a good sign, according to Zaun), Prince, the three-month-old chick, will have to resume normal development without the help of his parents.

Because a baby albatross depends on both of its parents for food, the decision to move the chick from his Princeville nest was an easy one for Zaun, and she is confident that the incident will not have a lasting effect on him.

“Albatrosses are generally not protective of their chicks,” she said, explaining the distancing between Prince and Longshot.

“I have not observed any interaction between them. I don’t know if they recognize each other now that they are both out of their nesting area.”

Zaun said that, although the mother will return once or twice after finding her nest empty, she should be fine as well, and will find another mate when she returns for the breeding season in the fall.

Unless, of course, Longshot is flying by then.

Albatrosses mate for life, and return to the same nesting grounds year after year. If Long-shot is able to fly by November, Zaun said, they could reunite.

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