Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Wanderer

One day while doing our weekend Meet and Greet on the bird exhibit line at World Bird Sanctuary, I was asked a question that really stumped me.  A young girl asked me, "If you could work with any type of bird that you don't have here, what would it be?"  

It was a question that I had never heard before and one for which I didn't know the answer.  So, while feeding the birds on the exhibit line and talking to this wonderful family about our birds, I thought about what type of bird I would love to work with.

Immediately I thought of a Harpy Eagle.  Harpy Eagles are one of the largest birds of prey in the world, and one of the most powerful too, with talons almost as long as bear claws.  But as I kept thinking I finally decided on my answer; a Wandering Albatross.

They have the largest wingspan of any bird (photo from the Wikimedia files)

Wandering Albatrosses have the largest wingspan of any bird in the entire world, with the largest one ever claimed being 17 ft 5 in.  However, this report remains unverified.  Average wingspan is usually around 12 feet, still extremely impressive.  They spend a majority of their lives flying over oceans.  

It takes about ten years for a Wandering Albatross to reach its full maturity.  As a juvenile, one would be almost completely brown, with some white feathers on their head near their face.  As they age the white coloration will take over most of their body.  Eventually, as an adult, they will have brown feathers on their wingtips and at the end of the tail, with the rest being white.  They have a long hooked beak, much like a gull, but bigger.  They also have webbed feet, which makes sense.  

These amazing birds spend most of their lives over the oceans (photo from the Wikimedia files)

Since they spend most of their lives over oceans, they must be able to travel great distances over a fairly quick period of time.  One Wandering Albatross was recorded traveling just over 3,700 miles in only 12 days.  They often spend their nights sleeping afloat on the oceans' surface.  They feed mainly on squid and other cephalopods, but will also eat other aquatic life.  

Sailors consider an albatross a symbol of safe journey.  Albatrosses often are found following boats, feeding on the fish waste that many boats create.  The male and female  share time incubating the egg and raising their young.  They will mate for life and only lay one egg per breeding season.  

The Wandering Albatross is listed as Vulnerable, not endangered, but they will be endangered if their decline continues.  The main cause of the decline of Wandering Albatrosses is getting tangled in long line fishing operations in the open ocean.  They often drown trying to eat the bait on the hook, getting tangled and being pulled under the waves.  

A majority of the entire world's breeding sites for these majestic birds are protected.  Also, many fishering operations are being relocated away from their migration routes, so it is good to know that steps are being taken to help these birds.

We don’t have Wandering Albatrosses at the World Bird Sanctuary, but we do have another species that you might encounter the next time you go boating on the river or on the ocean—Pelicans.  Once the weather warms up you may see both the Brown Pelican and the White Pelican on our exhibit line.  During this cold weather the Brown Pelicans are spending their time in one of our behind the scenes heated buildings.

Submitted by Mike Cerutti, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

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