Love is in the air: an albatross story

Who would have known that within the animal kingdom, albatrosses would be at the top of the most faithful, having close to zero ‘divorce’ rate? [1, 3].

Albatrosses are seabirds which spend most of their lives gliding indefinitely [1, 3].  They return to their native island to perform dance rituals, a strict prelude to finding their lifetime mate – much like how humans spend some quality time getting to know their potential soulmate. Love is probably the most apt term for humans, as it is ‘pair bond’ in albatrosses. But if one wants to witness the depth of real devotion, one should spend some time with an albatross couple.

A single chick is the fruit of albatrosses’ love. The albatross couple are active parents, taking turns in guarding and foraging food for miles and months on end, returning every week or two to regurgitate a good meal to its chick. Their dedication becomes more palpable as they don’t just leave their chick behind to race off for a quick meal. Both wait patiently, even preening a mate upon its arrival or cooing tenderly to its chick [2].

When the chick is equipped enough to conquer the skies, it will head over the sea and just fly for five or more years without ever landing [2] (I can’t imagine how fun that could be). It just stays on air since it has a lower resting heart rate than when it stays on water [3]. Eventually, when it feels the urge to mate, it goes back to its nesting colony to meet other albatross of its generation and perform an elaborate dance [1, 2, 3].

Albatross_Courtship

A pair point their beaks to the sky, scream, extend their wings to their full majestic span, touch beaks, and again, scream [1]. An albatross dances with many other of its kin, until such time that it decides to dance with only one – its lifetime partner. And now they mate [1, 3]. They snuggle, nuzzle each other, and tenderly gaze into each other’s eyes [2, 3].

Albatrosses stick to the very end. They mate for life until one them dies, which is not for another fifty years [1]. The sage of the most sage of successful coupling, Wisdom, now 65, just gave birth to its 40th chick. Its name is Kūkini, meaning “messenger” [4].

A couple often build nests every two years [1]. They lead solitary lives [2] so it is normal for them to separate ways without ever communicating for months [1].

But somehow in a strange, beautiful way, love finds its course: a female albatross finally reaches home. Lost in a crowd of its kin, the seabird earnestly looks for its partner, which might have been waiting for hours or even weeks. She scrutinizes each one, and there – a familiar presence.

Somehow it is nostalgic of how we feel when we, after years of tangible distance, have finally felt home. It is amazing how these ‘love’ birds manage to ever reunite and become successful couplers. Whatever the reason is, it might as well be love.

To know more about albatrosses, visit SeaLifeBase.

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[1] Krulwich, R. (2014, April 22). Introducing a divorce rate for birds, and guess which bird never, ever divorces? Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/krulwich/2014/04/22/305582368/introducing-a-divorce-rate-for-birds-and-guess-which-bird-never-ever-divorces

[2] Rogers, K. S. (2015, February 16). 7 love lessons from the amazing Layson albatross. The Dodo. Retrieved from https://www.thedodo.com/community/KimSteutermannRogers/six-things-laysan-albatross-te-989862793.html

[3] Strycker, N. (2015, February 8). What we can learn from the love life of birds. Time.  Retrieved from http://time.com/3699494/learn-from-love-life-birds/

[4] Arnold, C. (2016, February 11). Watch: the world’s oldest known wild bird just hatched a chick. National Geographic. Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/02/160211-albatrosses-mothers-babies-animals-science/

 

 

 

 

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