Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Endangered short-tailed albatross nests in U.S. for first time

So rare it had once been thought extinct

December 2010: For the first time ever, the endangered short-tailed albatross has nested in the United States. Once thought extinct, the short-tailed albatross has been restricted to only two breeding sites in the world -Torishima and the Senkaku Islands in Japan. The discovery of a nest on Kure Atoll, and another on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, approximately 50 miles away in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, marks a potential turning point for the species.

Researchers are excited by the discovery of a short-tailed albatross nest containing two eggs on 213-acre Kure Atoll. However, there is concern that the nest is apparently being tended to by two females, which raises some doubt as to whether the eggs have been fertilized and are viable. Researchers from Kure Atoll Conservancy were able to determine that one of the short-tailed albatrosses is a 17-year-old female, originally banded on Torishima Island.

Once one of the world's most abundant albatross species
On Midway Atoll, a male-female pair is incubating a freshly laid egg on Eastern Island. They have been trading off incubation duties. The adult male was banded as a fledgling on Torishima Island, Japan in 1987. The female was banded as a fledgling in 2003, also on Torishima. It is not yet known whether the egg is fertile. The nest is in a plot of model short-tailed albatross decoys placed to attract the species and is being monitored daily by remote video camera.

Thought to be extinct
The short-tailed albatross was once the most abundant of the North Pacific albatross species, numbering more than a million birds. It was decimated by feather hunting at the turn of the 20th Century, and by the late 1940s was thought to be extinct. In the early 1950s, ten pairs were discovered breeding on the volcanic island of Torishima, Japan. The population has now reached 3,000 individuals, with most on Torishima, but conservationists are worried that an eruption there could spell disaster.

Secure nesting sites are key to the survival of the species
For the past five years, the Short-tailed Albatross Recovery Team, an international group of collaborators, has been working on establishing a new colony on Mukojima Island, also in Japan, which is safe from volcanic activity and other problems.

‘It is very encouraging to see this species begin to expand and occupy its former range and even prospect potentially new breeding locations like Kure and Midway Atolls,' said Dr. Rob Suryan, chair of the Short-tailed Albatross Recovery Team.

‘Establishing another secure nesting site is one of the highest priorities for the species' recovery,' said Dr Jessica Hardesty Norris, director of the Seabird Programme for American Bird Conservancy, the nation's leading bird conservation organisation. ‘ABC hopes to see healthy breeding populations in the US in the near future, either on Kure or Midway Atoll.'

In recent years, the short-tailed albatross pairs have also been seen performing courtship dances on Midway Atoll, which is home to the largest nesting colonies of black-footed and Laysan albatrosses. ABC has been working with Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and other partners to eradicate invasive weeds and restore nesting habitat there.

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