Meet Hawaii’s Avian Climate Refugees

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Among the hundreds of thousands of Laysan albatross that nest at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge also nests another albatross species—the Black-footed albatross—but in much fewer numbers. The Black-footed albatross is listed as near threatened by the IUCN Red List. Along with the Laysan and Short-tailed albatross, they are one of three species of albatross found north of the equator.

BFAL chick with decoy 2

We all have our preferences when it comes to where to raise a family. City. Suburbia. Country. Mountains. Islands. Valleys. Apparently, Black-footed albatross like the beach, as their nests can usually be found along the edges of the islands and islets across the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands making up Papahānamokuākea Marine National Monument.

But like all albatross, the Black-footed albatross is highly philopatric, meaning they return to the same place they grew up to find mates and build nests of their own, and they’re as steadfastly loyal to their nests and chicks as Laysan albatross, even in windstorms that sweep across the wintry Pacific and all but bury them in sand.

Unfortunately, these nesting preferences face some challenges. As ice caps melt at the poles, sea levels are rising. High tide line is moving higher, swallowing up beaches on these flat-as-pancake atolls in the central Pacific where 99.99 percent of Black-footed albatross nest. As ocean temperatures are warm, storms the world over are intensifying, generating winter waves big enough to roll over the rings of once-protective reefs encircling atolls and washing up, and in some cases over, nesting birds. On the beaches, Black-footed albatross are the first to lose their nests, their eggs, their chicks.

It’s fitting that yesterday, among Laysan albatross soaring in figure eights above my head, I spotted a dark shape. The color black isn’t always associated with good, but seeing a Black-footed albatross felt like good luck to me. It was my first sighting of the big black bird—with a seven-foot-plus wingspan—in the Main Hawaiian Islands. Hopefully, in a half dozen years or so, I will be seeing more.

A couple weeks ago, before the next big winter storm could sweep them out to sea, 22 Black-footed albatross chicks were rescued and brought to O`ahu where they will be hand-raised for the next four to five months. All this is part of an effort by multiple organizations to create a new colony of Black-footed albatross on the “high” island of O`ahu. It’s a repeat of a similar recent effort on behalf of Laysan albatross.

BFAL chick with decoy

Last year, I wrote a three-part series for Audubon about the (re)creation of a Laysan albatross colony on O`ahu’s North Shore. (You can read part one here, and part two here, and part three here.) Many of the same organizations are involved this year in the creation of a Black-footed albatross colony in the same place—at James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge; however, the ones tasked with the monumental task of raising the chicks falls in the hands of Pacific Rim Conservation.

I also find it fitting that I first met Drs. Lindsay Young and Eric Vanderwerf ten years ago at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, where we counted albatross nests together. Since then, they started the non-profit conservation and research group called Pacific Rim Conservation. Their efforts can be summed up in their vision statement: Restoring biodiversity. Their goal in this project is “no net loss.” That is, restoring every square foot of seabird habitat that’s lost due to climate change. In 2017, Pacific Rim Conservation worked with 22 different bird species, banded more than 200 birds as part of their research, translocated four species of Hawaiian seabirds to safe breeding colonies, wrote three scientific journal articles and five management plans, built 3,200 linear feet of predator-proof fencing, eradicated non-native, terrestrial predators from 65 acres, and restored 18 acres of habitat by removing invasive weeds and replacing them with native plants. They’re busy people making an impact on Hawaii’s native birds by conducting pioneering science and implementing visionary conservation projects.

So, of course, I would choose Pacific Rim Conservation as one of Albatography’s #AlbatrossAmbassadoring recipients. For the month of March, 20 percent of Albatography’s net proceeds will go to Pacific Rim Conservation to help them feed a few Black-footed albatross.

Since I started this website late last year, Albatography has made donations to three different organizations working on behalf of albatross totaling $500. And it’s all because of you. When you add a little Albatography to your life, you help albatross. Mahalo!


Introducing Albatography

Screen Shot 2017-11-30 at 10.27.26 AMFirst, let me introduce to you a seabird known as the Laysan albatross. Or mōli, in Hawaiian. This seabird is equipped with magical powers to cause your eyes to widen, your jaw to drop, your opinion of birds to change, and your understanding of an albatross to be anything other than a burden. Albatross will make you a birder. They will make you a science geek. A fan of physics. Albatross will make you a believer in the goodness of the world. A lover of nature. A protector of the ocean. A champion of the environment. Don’t believe me? Follow along throughout this breeding season, and let’s see what you say in seven or eight months. Read more

Lost Words

A is for acorn. B is for buttercup. C is for chestnut.

Or maybe: A is for almond. B is for blackberry. C is for crocus.

You recognize these words, right? They’re familiar, right? You can probably even picture the two-toned brown nut with its textured top hat. Possibly taste the juicy blackberry in your mouth in the form of a pie that your grandmother lovingly made with her own two hands. Imagine the yellow flower reflecting its color under your chin, proving your love of butter.

Read more

On Endangered Species Day: Open Letter to Judge Castagnetti

The Honorable Jeannette Castagnetti
First Circuit Court of Hawai‘i
Ka‘ahumanu Hale
777 Punchbowl Street
Honolulu, HI 96813

Dear Judge Castagnetti:

Christian Gutierrez and the two juveniles involved in the massacre of Hawai‘i’s native Laysan albatross deserve to be sentenced to the fullest extent of the law.

Allow me to explain.

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Politics Aside: We Must All Be Mothers of Nature

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
-Cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead

Albatross DepartureLate last year, at the same time the Presidential election results shook the nation, the majestic Laysan albatross started returning to Kaua‘i. They dropped their spatula-like feet and touched land after months of knowing only air and wind and a wet, watery world. As of November 8th, six had returned to the colony I monitor, here to meet up with their partners and start the creation of another generation of majestic flyers. I knew a bit of history about five of them. I knew this because of the bands around their legs. Read more