Two Ways To Fledge

Today, we said goodbye to the Laysan albatross chick featured on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology webcam for the past five months as she took to the air for the very first time. Just after sunrise, Niaulani hopped atop a rock wall, flapped her wings really hard, and stepped off a cliff, taking a leap of faith into the great unknown and winging her way for the watery horizon.

How this all happens is a wonder to me, from the split second timing of a cloaca kiss that leads to an ooey-gooey mess inside an egg to a fluffy, downy chick chirping at its parent for a meal of oily fishy goodness to this: a fully-fledged bird with a six-and-a-half-foot wingspan flying out to sea where it will spend the rest of its life foraging for squid and fish and fish eggs. (We won’t talk about the plastic for now.)

Some might wave their hand and describe this flying leap as instinct, saying that leaving the safety of land and the comfort of regular room service delivery from its parents is nothing more than, as the dictionary defines instinct, “a natural or innate impulse, inclination, or tendency.”

As if instinct isn’t miraculous.

Instinct instructed Niaulani’s parents to fly tens of thousands of miles over the north Pacific Ocean, perhaps as far as the Aleutian Islands off Alaska, in search of food. With a full belly, instinct told them to turn south and head for Kauai, a speck the size of a black pepper flake from the vantage of a satellite. Then, instinct directed those same parents to a bluff on Kauai’s North Shore and a landing within feet of its hungry, waiting, offspring.

laysan albatross, cornell lab of ornithology, #albatrosscam
My last screen capture of Niaulani the night before she fledged.

Today, instinct commanded Niaulani to fly. In three to five years, instinct will guide her back to Kauai in search of a mate, where instinct will help her select the perfect partner to raise their own chicks, one at a time, over the subsequent four or five decades. In the course of Niaulani’s life, she will rack up nearly four million air miles.

Named by a Hawaiian cultural practitioner, Niaulani translates from Hawaiian to English in two parts. “Niau” as “moving smoothly, swiftly, silently, peacefully” and “lani” as “exalted, sky, heavens.”

Today, I also said goodbye to someone else: My uncle. He, too, is flying into the great unknown on a kind of voyage as intimidating as any I could imagine, another leap of faith. I have no idea what happens after death, if anything, but today, I am thinking of it as flight, an exalted fledging, and I imagine Uncle Randy flying smoothly, swiftly, silently and peacefully to the heavens.

A hui hou Niaulani and Uncle Randy. Until we meet again.

14 Comments Add yours

  1. Anne C. says:

    Beautiful post. It is all something of a miracle.

    Like

    1. Kim says:

      Indeed, it is, Anne.

      Like

  2. nickilorayn@aol.com says:

    Beautiful tribute to Uncle Randy as well as Niaulani. May the heavens welcome them

    With fond aloha………Nicki

    Like

    1. Kim says:

      Thank you, Nicki.

      Like

  3. Sorry for your loss, Kim

    Like

    1. Kim says:

      Thank you, Richard.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hob Osterlund says:

    Aloha Kimsters, So true. I so agree about miraculous instinct. And many blessings on your uncle’s fledge. Re the photo below: I posted one just like this—if it’s mine, would you please add a credit? I still have to learn how to copyright on iphotos. Have tried a couple of apps but so far haven’t found something I think is right. I think you offered to walk me through it a hundred years ago. Time to take you up on that. On the countdown now—book due next week. Holy Moli! xooxHO

    Like

    1. Kim says:

      Thanks for the condolences, Hobsters. My photo, the last I took the night before Niau fledged. But happy to show you how to add copyrights. Any time. Now, get back to the book. Imua!

      Like

  5. suegranzella says:

    So now I’m crying. I didn’t expect to end up in tears, reading a post about a bird taking flight. Beautiful, Kim. You amaze me with your prolific writing, and how you’re always able to weave together our human life with our wild friends’ lives. I’m really sorry about your uncle. May he fly high, soaring, free.

    Like

    1. Kim says:

      You really get my writing, Sue! Thank you for your sympathies.

      Like

  6. Diane Tilley says:

    Kim another wonderful post – I loved the concept of your uncle flying off into the unknown. We will miss Niau off on her own adventure and know that she will be back in 3/4 years.

    Like

    1. Kim says:

      Thanks, Diane.

      Like

  7. JoAnne Tompkins says:

    Thank you for this moving post! Such a great reminder of how life is full of leaps of faith, of acts of bravery and imagination. What a heartfelt tribute to Niaulani and your Uncle Randy.

    Like

    1. Kim says:

      Thank you, JT.

      Like

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