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Royal visitor on the mend

ANNETTE LAMBLY
Last updated 05:00 22/01/2014
Albatross
RECOVERING: Robert Webb with the southern royal albatross found on Ripiro beach, near Dargaville.

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An exhausted albatross found covered in sand and unable to fly on a Northland beach is recovering well at the Whangarei Bird Recovery Centre.

Co-founder of the centre Robyn Webb says the southern royal albatross was happily eating around $30 worth of fresh fish each day and was quite content taking time out to rest.

"We think its a young male bird, probably around 5 years old. He is calm and shows no sign of wanting to leave at the moment," Mrs Webb says.

Fisheries officers West Hill and Darren Edwards discovered the bird about 10 days ago while patrolling Ripiro Beach, Dargaville.

It is believed the bird got caught in a heavy storm off the west coast and got blown off course.

"Once they are wet and full of sand they lose their buoyancy and need to dry out. "To fly it has to be able to run along the top of the water or jump off a cliff," Mrs Webb says.

The trouble is people won't leave them alone so for the bird's safety the officers brought the bird here," Mrs Webb says.

Visits from the southern royal are very rare.

"In 25 years this visitor is the only one. We feel quite privileged. We had a northern royal albatross about six years ago but other than that it's the giant petrels or wandering albatross we see more regularly," she says.

The birds spend much of life soaring above the seas and oceans returning to land only to breed. Mrs Webb says they can spend a couple of years circumnavigating the world.

"They often take advantage of the airflow ‘wave' above large ships to coast on," she says.

They feed on surface shoaling fish and squid, supplemented by crustaceans and carrion.

An adult southern royal albatross (diomedea epomophora) can have a wing-span in excess of 3 metres and weigh around 8-9 kilograms. Endemic to New Zealand, the majority of the southern royal breeding population is found on subantarctic Campbell Island, with smaller numbers on the Auckland Islands.

Birds breed biennially as it takes nearly a year to rear the single chick. They generally start breeding at six years and can live into their 40s. Once the bird is more active, which indicates it is ready to leave, it will be taken out towards the Poor Knights or further and released.

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- Whangarei Leader

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