Northern royal albatross/toroa on its nest
Image: Yang Gan | DOC


See answers to some of the questions that get asked about albatross and the colony at Taiaroa Head.

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Young albatross chicks

How often are the albatross chicks fed when they first hatch?

This can vary a lot. Some chicks don't get their first meal until they are two days old. After that they generally only get a couple of feeds each day. A whole range of things come into play though, like weather causing difficulty feeding, strong winds or rain. The amount each chick gets given in the first few days or weeks can vary from 10g to 100g per meal.

When does the chick start on solids?

The albatross chicks can get lumps of fish within their first few days. Sometimes we have had to supplementary feed a young chick. We use fresh fish and it is digested without any problems. However, it's all about the size of those lumps, too big and the chick cannot swallow and the lump will just fall onto the ground. But that does not happen often at any age of the chick.

Where has the chick gone? I can't see it on the camera.

As the chick grows older it will start wandering away from its nest more often. It will never be far away, as its parents will always return to the nest to feed the chick.

Is the web cam chick a boy or a girl?

It's too early to tell whether this chick is male or female. We use size, weight and temperament of the chick to guess the sex. Male chicks usually become heavier and larger than female chicks at around 80 days old, although we won't know for sure until the chicks begin to breed, around the age of 10.

View the graph on the Meet the albatross page to see how heavy the chick is compared to the average weight of male and female birds. 

Why is the chick attacking the web cam? Is it hungry?

The reason the birds are interested in the camera is just because they are curious and inquisitive.

Adult birds

Do albatross have individual markings? Do the chicks follow a 'pattern' similar to the parents?

We believe that they possibly do have individual markings, there has been some work done on their back markings a long time ago. However, due to the size of the population and the fact that we do not always get a clear view of the back, using these markings has not been an option.

How much do the adult birds weigh?

We don't often weigh the adults but from the limited data we do have they are around 6-7 kgs (although more than that when they're carrying a belly full of food for a chick). Males tend to be heavier than females.

Interestingly the chicks will weigh more than 6 kgs by the time they are around 5 months old (and male chicks can get up to 13 kgs at their heaviest) but they'll lose weight before fledging.

Do the males spend more time on the nest than the females?

Yes, males can spend more time on the egg than the females, but generally it is a fair split in regard to time spent on the egg. Males have a couple of advantages over the females in this:

  • they don't lay the egg so they don't loss a heap of energy producing it, laying it and making sure the nest will hold it
  • they are bigger than females so can go further and store more food (generally heavier than girls).

Juvenile birds

The web cam nest site has been a popular place for juvenile birds to socialise. These are birds returning to the headland from having spent the last 4-10 years at sea.

They come back to find a mate before breeding for their first time (which will be in a few years time). When these birds return we replace their single band with a unique colour combination. 

When the birds return as juveniles, do they know which birds are their parents, and do the parents recognise them?

It's hard to say if they 'know' each other. Regardless of whether a parent 'knows' a previous chick, if that parent is sitting on a new chick, the parent will defend its territory and give anyone walking by a good clappering to make them move on.

Like all animals living in large colonies, parents find their mates and chicks/offspring through vocalisations/calling.

Do juveniles pick on chicks that are at a nest close to the site they were raised (ie is it a territorial thing)? 

Although albatross usually nest not far from where they are raised, the juveniles are quite mobile and will hang out with other juveniles anywhere in the colony during the gamming stage.

There may be several nests near the areas where any one juvenile will have been raised. It sometimes happens that one juvenile is seen bullying several different chicks. When they start 'keeping company' with a potential mate (maybe the following season) they do not bother the chicks.

Can we put a repellent in the nest to deter juvenile bullies?

Probably not. We would not want to deter the parents or the chick for that matter.

Nest building

Is it the male that decides where the nest is going to be, and would that be fairly close to where they grew up?

At the start of the breeding season the male defends a territory in which the nest ends up in and this can be within 40 m of the nest they grew up in.

DOC rangers

How many rangers work at the Taiaroa Head albatross colony?

There are three rangers covering a 7 day roster – Jim, Colin and Sharon. 

It takes almost a full year from egg laying until the chick fledges so the rangers need to be around all throughout the year.

What is involved in looking after the albatross chicks?

The beginning of the year is a busy time for our rangers. Not only do they have the chick on the web cam to look after but there are more than 20 other chicks.

Young chicks are monitored at least twice daily and we also monitor change overs of the adults at the nest to ensure the chick has a parent that has food to give it. If, for example, an adult fails to come home from sea we can foster either the egg or the chick to another pair to look after. If we don't have any spare pairs then we become either 'mum' and 'dad' to that chick, supplementary feeding it until it fledges.

Does it hurt to be bitten?

The bites don't hurt too bad, you get used to it. They can certainly draw blood. It's better to get bitten once than to keep extending and retracting your hand. The sudden movement of retracting a hand can also upset the chicks so everything is done smoothly and calmly (even when getting bitten). It is important the rangers operate good health and safety practices to ensure zoonoses are not transmitted from human to bird or vice versa.

2018 web cam - YWK and KGY

The nest featured on Royal cam for the 2017/18 season belongs to northern royal albatross pair known as YWK and KGY.

To know which bird is which, keep an eye out for their bands. The male is 25 years old and has yellow/white/black bands so his nick name is YWK (B is used for blue, so we use K for black). The female is 17 years old and has black/green/yellow bands so we call her KGY.

There's a bit of a story behind how YWK and KGY got together. Albatross generally retain the same partner for decades, and separations are not usually the norm. But this couple have been through several separations between them with past mates.

The male bird YWK first started breeding as an 8 year old. He had three attempts with one female – their first egg was infertile, on the second attempt the chick died, and finally on the third time they fledged a chick.

A year later he arrived back from sea with a leg injury, so he didn't breed that year and ended up separating from his first mate. His leg eventually healed but as an unattached male he now had to find a new partner. That took some time. After several years of displaying among the other unattached birds, he started breeding with his second mate five years later.

With his second mate, YWK had three nesting attempts, resulting in two chicks fledged. He separated from her and later began breeding with his current mate.

YWK is KGY's second mate. She started to breed at 8 years of age, but the death of her first mate meant that she too had to go through courtship displays again. She found YWK five years after the death of her first mate. This is their second breeding attempt, as they successfully fledged a chick two years ago.

2017 web cam - Tūmanako, foster chick, BK and RBK


Why was Tūmanako so dirty when he was younger?

During a weigh in when the chick was about two months old, he got quite agitated and as a defensive behaviour it 'spilled' on itself. Spilling is a defence mechanism where the chick eject a smelly, sticky substance called proventriculus oil when it feels threatened. The oil is what you can see on the chick's face.

What causes the chick to vomit?

Spilling occurs when a chick feels threatened or becomes agitated.

Can a ranger clean the chick up?

No, spilling is a natural response, and cleaning would likely result in further agitation and stress on the chick. Our management technique is for minimum intervention.

If the chick spills on itself during a weigh in, we give it some space and avoid approaching the nest for a week or maybe more depending on its behaviour.

How long will the oily residue stay there for?

That varies from chick to chick depending on the amount of oil, how much rain we get and how fast the feathers grow in.

Would feeding the chick when you weigh it stop it from getting so stressed and spilling?

No. To feed a chick we have to manually handle the bird and this can also cause it to become stressed or agitated. Birds do not feed from a ranger's hand.

Does the smell of the spill deter adolescent birds from bullying the chick?

Not that we have been able to determine. This case coincides with there being a lot less juveniles around as they are leaving for the winter.

Do the rangers have a plan B to clean a chick's feathers if it is still matted around fledge time?

By the time a chick fledges, its down feathers will have been replaced by flight feathers that will give it its adolescent plumage.

Parents - BK and RBK

Which adult is which?

The male has blue-black (BK) colour bands and the female has red-blue-black (RBK) band. Males tend to be the larger of the two in body size and bill.

If this is the third chick for BK and RBK, have any of them come back home to mate this season?

Albatross can be out at sea from 4-10 years. None of BK and RBK's previous chicks have arrived back yet.

Foster chick

Why did Tūmanako get 'fostered' out when he first hatched?

When Tūmanako was just days old, he was unwell and lost weight. So that our rangers could closely monitor the chick, he was moved to a foster nest closer to their office. 

The chick lost weight because it was unwell, and wasn't interested in feeding. It didn't have anything to do with the parents not looking after it. Just like when humans get sick - you often don't feel like eating.

How old is the foster chick that came to the web cam nest? It was quite a bit bigger when they first got swapped over.

Both chicks hatched on the same day, which is why we were worried about the weight of the original web cam chick.

Why was this foster chick originally fostered out?

The parents deserted their egg.

What happens to the foster chick when the original web cam chick is returned?

The foster chick will be placed at another foster nest (the one the web cam chick is currently at), since it's parents deserted the nest.

About the live stream

Can the rewind time be lengthened?

The two hour limitation to rewind time is set by YouTube, and we are unable to change it. Some live streams have a rewind time of four hours, but this is not an option that we have available to us for our stream.

How come the link to the live stream keeps changing?

There is an issue at YouTube's end which means the link sometimes changes. Save the following link instead, as this is the permanant URL to our live stream:

About the web cam

The web camera is small and unobtrusive, and we have taken every measure to ensure that it doesn't disrupt the birds or the historic site where it is set up.

Why is the camera sometimes fogged up?

The camera lens will sometimes fog up when there is a sudden change in temperature. For example, it might happen when the camera has been in the shade then is suddenly in the sun, or vice-versa. Moisture/condensation is created inside the camera while the camera temperature catches up to the air temperature. This is what makes the camera lens foggy.

Can you wipe it clear?

No. The fogging occurs inside the camera, behind the lens, meaning we can't wipe it clean. 

It will clear up by itself, as the temperature of the camera catches up to the air temperature.

Is there any way you can stop the lens from fogging?

To fix the issue we would need to keep the camera consistently the same temperature as the air, which isn't going to happen in an environment like this. The reality of this location is that the temperature can change suddenly.

Why is the fogging worse than last year?

Because the camera is older, it's possible that the seals on the camera aren't as airtight as they were in 2016 (meaning more moisture is being allowed in). This may be why it's worse this year, but we've also had a colder autumn/winter than last year which has made the issue worse. Installing a new camera isn't an option this season, but if Royal cam continues next year we would look at replacing it with a new one.

Can the webcam be put into night mode?

To use night mode, the camera would have to use infrared, which is hazardous and harmful to the eye if exposed directly. Although birds can't see infrared, we would rather not risk their eyesight, particularly when they are out at sea at night.

How have we minimised disruption to the birds?

The camera is silent and situated a few metres away from the nest. The birds have not paid any attention to its presence. We have also ensured that the camera is 'chick proof' as they do wander away from the nest and are curious.

The web cam is also streaming overnight. We have been experimenting with a low powered solar red light, to observe the chick behaviour during the first few hours of darkness (after several hours the solar light will run out of stored power and turn off for the remainder of the night). We're monitoring this, to ensure that the light is not disturbing the chick.

How are you protecting this historic site?

Pukekura/Taiaroa Head was an important site for Maori and later on, European settlers. The first people on the headland were of Maori descent and were probably on the headland several hundred years ago. It is therefore listed with Historic New Zealand as a category one historic site.

Because of this status, the ground must remain undisturbed. The camera is mounted on a wooden post held in position by an umbrella stand, with a concrete base and rocks holding it down.

Setting up the camera

We choose a nest that was relatively close to the rangers office where we could live stream the video from.

When the camera was first set up in 2016, the Wellington City Council shared their knowledge and experience as they have recently undertaken a similar live streaming project - kākā cam. Their staff helped us to set the camera up and get the live stream operating.

Pukekura/Taiaroa Head is often exposed to gale force winds and associated weather. These factors were taken into account when choosing a suitable camera. The camera has anti shake capabilities and in that respect it has proven its worth in some of our gale force winds!

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