Amazing creatures: The wandering albatross

It’s Mother’s Day today, so I was scratching my head to find a way of acknowledging that while sticking to environmental matters. And that’s when I remembered the wandering albatrosses that featured in the BBC’s ‘Frozen Planet’. Why, you ask? What do wandering albatrosses have to do with Mother’s Day? Keep reading, and I’ll explain.

Wandering albatrosses mate for life, and can live for 50 or 60 years. They only start breeding at the age of about nine, and then the females lay just one egg every two years. The parents take turns at incubating the egg, which takes about two months. It’s just as well they take turns, because they can apparently lose 83 grams of weight for every day they sit on the nest. Who knew sitting on a nest was so energy-intensive?!

Finally the chick hatches, but there’s more hard work ahead for the parents: a wandering albatross chick takes about nine months from hatching before fledging (March to December), so its parents have to do a fair amount of feeding in that time. It’s another job shared by mum and dad Albatross, and again that’s just as well, because feeding a chick until it weighs about 10kg must take a lot of squid, octopus, cuttlefish and crustaceans! By the time the chick is ready to fly, it’s actually heavier than its parents.

I figure wandering albatross chicks must have pretty awesome mothers (and fathers), who go out in winter to find food for their big baby. It’s a thankless job too, because when the chick finally figures out how to fly, it leaves the nest while mum and dad are out looking for food, so they come back to an empty nest. I’m sure there’s not even a note saying ‘so long, and thanks for everything’. Sadly, human mothers are not always appreciated either, and perhaps we too forget to go back and say thank you.

So, this Mother’s Day, don’t be a silly gull: Say ‘thank you, mum’, even if she’s not around any more. Mothers are amazing creatures too.

Copyright Simon Pickering, British Antarctic Survey

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