Albatross' flight to test nesting spot

17:00, Apr 13 2014
A Chatham Island albatross chick
READY TO GO: A Chatham Island albatross chick strengthens its wings in preparation to fly off the island

The first group of rare Chatham Island albatross chicks moved to a new breeding site have left their artificial nesting spot.

The Chatham Island Taiko Trust spearheaded the project, which aims to bolster the breeding population of the native seabird.

Project manager Mike Bell planned the relocation - one of the world's first albatross transfers - for years.

Since January, 50 chicks have been moved to a new site on Chatham Island.

The birds' only breeding colony was on The Pyramid, an isolated rocky outcrop south of Pitt Island. At 1.7 hectares, it was too small for the population to grow beyond the 5000 breeding pairs already there.

A storm in 1985 damaged the vegetation and soil cover, which affected the birds' nests.

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Bell said a similar event could stall breeding for years while the environment recovered, so a second colony was vital..

In January, he and a group of volunteers took 30 six-week-old chicks from The Pyramid to a new site on Chatham Island. A further 20 chicks were moved six weeks later.

An artificial albatross colony was set up, complete with nests made out of garden pots, decoy adult birds and a sound system playing albatross calls.

Albatross usually return to the site where they were hatched to breed.

Bell's team will not know for years if the transfer was successful. The birds spend their first four years of life at sea before returning to the spot where they hatched.

Even then, the birds will not breed until they are seven years old.

Though the youngsters have yet to develop the bright yellow bills of adults, they have been testing their wings, strengthening up for the big flight out of the nest.

The Press