Albatross/Toroa 2013/14 season

Laying has finished with a total of 33 eggs laid, similar numbers to the previous season’s 37 eggs. This large species of albatross (northern royal) are biennial breeders, so generally the pairs nesting this season did not breed last year (and vice-versa).

By shining a torch through the egg (“candling”) we can determine fertility of the egg, and of the 32 eggs ‘candled’ so far, all are fertile (the last remaining egg isn’t old enough yet to see any embryonic development). We are hopeful of seeing a good number of fledglings depart the headland in September next year.

Breeding summary
In the 2012/13 Toroa breeding season, we had a total of thirty five pairs (33 female-male pairs and two female-female pairs) that produced a total of 37 eggs. Although 31 of those eggs were fertile we lost some of these during warm weather (where ground temperatures can reach over 40 degrees and heat stressed birds accidentally crush their egg). One pair went through ‘a divorce’ during incubation and deserted their egg before we realised what was going on (that particular male is nesting again in this 2013/14 season, but with his new partner).

We used an incubator for eggs at risk of breakage or desertion (generally caused by long incubation shifts). We also placed hatching eggs in it over the late January to mid-February period, when fly strike is a huge problem for us.

Eight of the 27 chicks to hatch were fly-struck during the 2012/13 season but we removed all maggots and cleaned the infected areas with a strong antiseptic and with luck all fly-blown chicks survived.

After about a month, royal albatross chicks go into their post-guard stage (from February-September). This post-guard stage wasn’t without its problems during the previous season, when two chicks required long-term supplementary feeding (four times a week). However both fledged successfully.

Another chick that fledged was seen floundering in the water just off the headland and a boat was dispatched to retrieve it. It was apparent that its underbelly was not waterproof and therefore not providing the buoyancy that albatrosses require. It was returned to Pukekura where it was seen furiously preening that area of its body before it fledged successfully on its second attempt.

One of the last chicks to leave developed an eye infection just prior to fledging. It required several weeks of treatment and supplementary feeding as its parents had stopped coming in for the season. Eventually we decided its best chance of survival was for it to go to sea, where the salt water environment should aid recovery of its eye. We took that bird about one kilometre to sea and released it. We were pleased to see it take flight a short time later.

Both female-female pairs and 24 other pairs successfully raised a chick to fledging age with the last chick fledging on the 14 October. The first egg laid for the 2013/14 season was just 12 days later and this long breeding cycle is one of the main reasons why this species are biennial breeders. Nā Lyndon Perriman, head ranger, Taiaroa Head.