Laysan Albatross (Diomedea immutabilis)

February 9, 2009 by  
Filed under

It has always been said that whilst on the ocean you could predict that land is near after sighting a bird. Which is true in most cases, however, sighting an Albatross is no sign of land. These birds are known to be the “nomads of the ocean” and will usually only go on land to breed. They can spend years out on the ocean. The Laysan Albatross is found in the northern parts of the Pacific Ocean, the islands surrounding Hawaii and at times it has been seen in the Gulf of Alaska.

The Laysan Albatross (Diomedea immutabilis) is predominantly white of color, with black upper wings and black mantle. There is dark plumage surrounding the eye, with a yellowish beak that has a dark tip. The Laysan Albatross is 79 to 81 centimeters in length and has a wingspan of 195 to 203 centimeters. These large ocean birds can weigh up to 11 kilograms.

Being surface feeders, the Laysan Albatross will feed on crustaceans, squid, flying fish eggs and fish. They are nocturnal feeders, and will generally hunt for food during the night. Although they are extremely awkward on land, due to them only going on land once a year, they are graceful and elegant in flight. The albatross is so in tune with the ocean winds, that it is able glide over the ocean without flapping its wings for hours or even days sometimes. It is also known that the albatross can sleep while in this graceful state of flight.

The Laysan Albatross mates for life. Each year the pair will meet at their nesting ground, and will only take a new partner if its mate happens to die. The albatross will construct the nest from shrubbery, grasses and dirt that is piled together to form a cup. The Laysan Albatross females will begin laying their eggs in mid-November. The female will only lay one egg and might incubate the egg for the first few days, but the incubation period of 65 days is generally taken care of by the male. If for some reason the eggs should break or be infertile, the female will not lay another egg for that year.

The albatross chicks will hatch in January or mid February. Both the male and female albatross will feed their chick. The chick is capable of surviving the absence of its parents, as the squid it eats and the chick’s stomach oil contains nutrients and fatty acids that prevents the chick from starving. The chick will fledge the nest at about 5 to 6 months, but most parents return to the sea long before their chick has grown its juvenile plumage. The first mating and nesting period takes place between the ages of 6 to 8 years, and the sub-adults will spend their first three to five years out on the ocean. The Laysan Albatross can live to the rich old age of about 40 to 60 years.

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica)

February 9, 2009 by  
Filed under

The Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) is a small sea bird which spends most of its life living on the open ocean. It is also known as the Common Puffin and it is the only puffin species which occurs in the Atlantic Ocean. All three other puffin species are found in the Pacific. When they are not mating and nesting, Puffins spend their time flying, swimming or riding the vast watery ocean, regardless of the weather. They feed primarily on fish, although they have also been known to eat crustaceans and molluscs. When diving for fish, they make use of their specially adapted wings as a means of propulsion while their webbed feet steer them. They are able to catch several small fish in their bills during the course of one dive, making use of their tongue to trap the fish while their mouths are open. Amazingly, these small pigeon-sized birds can dive to depths between 50 and 200 feet.

The species is primarily characterised by their brightly-coloured orange bills which only gain colour before the mating season. The male is slightly larger than the female and their bodies are mainly black on the top with a white underbelly. Their faces are grey and they have short, red-orange legs. Their bodies average between 28-34 cm in length and they have a wingspan of between 50 and 60 cm. During the winter months, these puffins may travel as far south as the Mediterranean and North Carolina. When it is mating season, the Atlantic Puffin can be found off the coasts of northern Europe, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and the eastern parts of North America. They also occur in the Arctic Circle and in northern France and Maine.

Every year near April, puffins start to grow brightly coloured bill plates as they move north towards their breeding grounds. These bills are used in courtship rituals and a pair will usually tap their bills together. After the mating season these brightly coloured bill plates are shed. The male puffin will clear out the nest area for the female he has found before she arrives at the nesting ground, lining it with suitable materials. The female then lays a single egg and the pair share incubation responsibilities. After between 39-45 days, the chick will hatch and then after a further 49 days, will be ready to fledge. When it is old enough it will venture out to sea alone and begin life as a young puffin adult. At about 5-6 years of age, the young puffin will become sexually mature and be ready to mate and produce offspring.