Heat threat to albatross colony

01:29, Feb 01 2013
Staff at the Taiaroa Head royal albatross colony, on the Otago Peninsula are working hard to keep the nesting birds cool this summer to help with breeding.

While the spell of hot weather sends southern residents to the sea, the warm temperatures are bad news for the Taiaroa Head royal albatross colony, on the Otago Peninsula.

With the hatching period underway for this year's breeding population, the heat is putting stress on the adult females and their chicks, the Department of Conservation says.

Coastal Otago Area Office biodiversity assets programme manager David Agnew said it was a critical time for the breeding northern royal albatross which is listed as unnaturally uncommon on the species list.

"The heat could force the adult birds to leave the nest and head to the sea to cool down, abandoning the egg or exposing the newly hatched chick to the full intensity of the sun," he said.

Chicks were also more vulnerable to fly strike in the heat because they may be covered in egg fluid or have a raw umbilicus, he said.

However, a specially designed "air conditioning system" and long hours by DOC staff was helping keep the Taiaroa Head royal albatross colony cool.


An irrigation cooling system, upgraded last year, was spraying a cold-water mist on the nesting adults, Mr Agnew said.

The birds were cooled, causing a natural response from the adult to settle back on its egg or chick, he said.

Sadly staff reported a juvenile female bird had died of apparent heat exhaustion after returning to the colony after four years.

The irrigation lines were turned on after a string of hot days on the peninsula, Mr Agnew said. "The lines were turned on to all the nests after adult birds showed signs of heat stress leading towards heat exhaustion.

"One young chick became extremely heat stressed after its mother exposed it to the full heat of the sun."

DOC ranger Lyndon Perriman carried the chick with him during his monitoring rounds for 30 minutes before placing it in an incubator until its mother had resettled at the nest once her body temperature cooled, Mr Agnew said.

Sixteen chicks had hatched, with seven others hatching and another four expected to start hatching next week.

The Southland Times