Saturday, June 11, 2011

First Hawaiian "golden gooney" chick to fly soon

There are few good-news stories on the environmental beat, but the tale of Midway's golden goonies is one.

These charismatic and endangered seabirds are known to professionals as short-tailed albatross, but their regal golden heads give them their popular name.

(Images: Papa golden gooney sits on young chick. Later, big chick nears fledging age. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photos.)

They are rare birds anywhere, and nesting colonies only occur on a couple of small islands controlled by Japan. A few years ago one, then two, then three of them appeared among the massive colonies of Laysan albatross and black-footed albatross in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

This year, a pair produced a live chick at Midway Atoll—the first known short-tailed albatross hatched outside Japan. And since albatross tend to return to their islands of hatching, it's hoped the chick will decide to stay in Hawai`i and establish a small colony here. (They don't always go back to their birthplace. Both parents were banded and are believed to have been hatched at Japan's Torishima Island.)

“We are very excited that the chick, raised by first-time parents, has made it to where we believe it will fledge, perhaps by mid-June,” said Deputy Refuge Manager John Klavitter, deputy refuge manager of the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

“This chick is a survivor,” Klavitter said. “Hatched in the middle of a raging storm in January, it was swept 30 meters from its nest during a second storm in February, then survived the March tsunami that caused tens of millions of dollars in damage and the loss of some 100,000 Laysan and black-footed albatross chicks.”

See additional photos of of the golden goonies here.

See previous stories here, here and here.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2011

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