Laysan Albatross Chicks: What’s In a Bolus?

On World Oceans Day earlier this week, I surveyed a colony of Laysan albatross chicks, mere weeks away from fledging. It was a clear day with bluebird blue skies and the slightest whisper of wind disrupting the lazy leaves of ironwood trees. But the chicks didn’t let the lack of air movement deter them. Many have roamed far from their natal nest sites into the open, onto rises of land, their faces pointing toward the ocean. Soon, they will launch themselves on their first flights and head to sea for an excursion that will last three to five years. I’ve already spotted the look on a few chicks’ faces, their eyes layered with yearning for that great body of water, their real home. It’s a look many sailors wear after too long ashore. Perhaps sailors were albatrosses in prior lives.

Laysan albatross chick.I consider albatross the canaries of the sea. Instead of coalmines, they bring us reports of the ocean. And on a day the United Nations declared worthy of celebrating our world’s oceans, one Laysan albatross chick gave me a strong message. One I expect every season. And, yet, this year, it came as a surprise.

The chick was sitting in a nest cup when I approached to check its band number and take a quick health assessment. We’ve had some issues with bone density this season, and I wanted to be sure all 35 chicks in my colony could stand on strong legs. This one hopped up as I neared—a good sign—its downy feathers still covering its head and neck like a mantilla. Between its webbed feet, I noticed a white rock.

My first thought was, how cute, the chick is already practicing incubating an egg, just like it’s already made a few nests, gearing up for its own reproduction efforts that won’t take place for another seven to 10 years.

Laysan albatross chick, plastic bottle cat
Laysan albatross chick with a plastic bottle cap in its nest.

Then, I looked closer and realized the rock was really a white bottle cap, and it sat amongst other bits of colored plastic and a few squid beaks. It was a bolus. The thing chicks regurgitate of indigestible items, and I quickly snatched it from the nest, because in their youth, albatross chicks will often mouth and, potentially, ingest non-edibles that happen to be around their nest site, like ironwood needles, chunks of wood, and anything that might be regurgitated in boluses—like plastic bottle caps and, even, plastic cigarette lighters.

As you may know from reading my blog, this chick, no doubt, was fed the plastic bottle cap by its parent, who mistook it for fish eggs or squid floating on the sea’s surface. Luckily, chick H015 was able to vomit up this plastic. I just hope there isn’t any more in its belly.

This is why I ask you to #resolve2refuse single-serving plastic bottles and cut back our use of disposable plastic.

For them.

For us.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. suegranzella says:

    Yikes! I’ve seen photos before of things that wildlife have ingested, but have never known anyone who personally saw the evidence. Thanks for being their voice.


    1. Kim says:

      I suppose that’s what being a writer is, isn’t it, Sue? Reporting what we’ve witnessed so others know the truth. Thank you for recognizing and reminding me of that.


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