Chicks Raising Chicks

It’s usually Hawaii’s stunning scenery that gets the media attention, but this time it’s the sexual preferences of our Laysan albatrosses, which arrive each winter to partake in courtship and chick-rearing rituals.

As Steven Colbert observed in a recent spoof on Comedy Central, a number of female-female couples have been documented among the seabirds nesting on Oahu.

Wildlife biologists estimate as many as one-third of the nesting birds on Oahu are female-female pair, a scenario they attribute to a shortage of males in the relatively new nesting colony there. Since most of their eggs are infertile, however, federal biologist Brenda Zaun has put some of the  prospective same-sex parents to good use on Kauai.

Zaun has successfully slipped a number of eggs collected from Kauai’s Pacific Missile Range Facility, which is trying to discourage albatrosses from setting up housekeeping near its runways, into the nests of female-female couples miles away.

Hob Osterlund

Photographer Hob Osterlund, who frequents a nesting colony atop a Kauai sea cliff that's conducive to the birds’ wind-assisted take-offs, actually managed to photograph one such pair, pictured here. It took an hour of waiting before they both entered the camera frame—just as the brooder exposed her egg.

The surrogate parenting appears to be a win-win solution. Since chicks imprint on the place where they hatch, returning there years later to nest, the military base is able to keep a lid on its resident albatross population, without destroying eggs. Meanwhile, the adoptive parents, who mate for life, are able to satisfy their nesting instinct while rearing chicks in places where they’re welcome and relatively safe.

“The views expressed in user comments do not reflect the views of Audubon. Audubon does not participate in political campaigns, nor do we support or oppose candidates.”