The newest resident at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is an endangered, short-tailed albatross chick that officials believe was born on New Year’s Day.
The parents are a pair of albatross that wildlife officials affectionately named George and Geraldine. Officials believe they are the only nesting pair of short-tailed albatross outside of the only other known breeding colonies of the species on islands south of Japan.
“Short-tailed albatross are spectacular birds and are much larger than the other two species of albatross that nest on Midway Atoll,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wildlife Biologist Jon Plissner in a news release. “The chicks are much larger as well — and combined with their almost black feathers – really stand out in the sea of Laysan and black-footed albatross chicks.”
Albatrosses, who mate for life, return to Midway Atoll at Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument every October and November to nest. Most of their eggs hatch by late December and early January, and the chicks fledge, meaning grow adult feathers and head out to sea by June and July.
The short-tailed albatross is the largest seabird in the North Pacific, according to USFWS, with a wingspan measuring more than 7 feet. The seabirds are distinguishable by their golden or chocolate-brown heads and bubblegum-pink bills.
Their population, however, plummeted from millions in the 1800s to less than 10,000 today, making them one of the most rare and endangered seabirds in the North Pacific. Geographically, the short-tailed albatross once ranged across the Pacific from Japan to Alaska to Hawaii, but today, are known mostly to breed in the Senkaku and Izu Islands.
Wildlife officials had a camera trained on the nest, where the egg was laid Oct.28, and based on first images captured, believe the chick hatched on New Year’s Day. George and Geraldine have raised a chick on Midway Atoll every year since 2019. Because only one egg is laid at a time, every surviving chick is crucial.
Nearly 70% of the world’s Laysan albatross and almost 40% of Black-footed albatross, as well as endangered short-tailed albatross rely on Midway Atoll as a habitat, along with 20 other seabird species, USFWS said, which makes its protection very important.