Laysan Albatross: An Unexpected Attraction In Hawaii

Apr 2, 2019
Originally published on May 2, 2019 5:24 am

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

People who vacation in Hawaii often go for the beautiful beaches and lush rainforests. NPR science correspondent Joe Palca recently stumbled across an unexpected attraction in the town of Princeville. It's on the north side of the island of Kauai. Joe sent us this postcard.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: This is just hilarious. You drive past the golf course, down a subdivision to a dead end and you look in people's backyards. And you see albatross.

CATHY GRANHOLM: Yeah. I have a little melodrama going on in my yard.

PALCA: For more than a decade, Cathy Granholm has been tracking the Laysan albatross who come to Hawaii every winter from Alaska. They're not a threatened species. But Granholm is tracking their numbers closely, on the lookout for signs of trouble. Albatross are large, white birds with longish beaks and grey feathers on their wings. They remind me of a seagull on steroids. There are two albatrosses sitting inches apart in Granholm's yard.

GRANHOLM: The one on the right is Roger.

PALCA: Roger, it turns out, is a female albatross.

Roger on the right and who is...

GRANHOLM: Mr. Clackypants on the left.

PALCA: Sorry. What was the name again?

GRANHOLM: Mr. Clackypants.

PALCA: The name derives from the fact that albatross make a clacking sound with their beaks. Granholm says Roger and Mr. Clackypants seem to like each other.

GRANHOLM: They sit facing each other and very gently groom each other's face and head.

PALCA: They are a pair.

GRANHOLM: They are - well, we'll know when Mrs. Clackypants comes back.

PALCA: Mrs. Clackpants has been away for a while now. And it seems Roger has been all palsy-walsy (ph) with Mr. Clackypants during Mrs. Clackypants' absence. The albatross come to Hawaii to mate and produce offspring.

GRANHOLM: Here's a chick.

PALCA: Albatross nests are on the ground. This one is under a bush.

Oh, that's so cute.

Unlike the big, clunky, white parents, the chicks are a small, fluffy bundle of gray feathers about the size of a small beach ball.

GRANHOLM: As the chick gets older, it starts getting the adult feathers kind of from the ground up. The white feathers come in. It often looks like it has a toupee when it's ready to fledge. You know, it's got baby feathers on top.

PALCA: A hundred yards or so from Granholm's house, there's a promontory looking over the ocean. When the chicks are old enough, this is where they take off from.

GRANHOLM: And the wind is usually coming right at them from here. And they put their little wings - not little - big wings out, and maybe a flap or two and they're up.

PALCA: Granholm says that's something to see. I guess I'll have to come back.

Joe Palca, NPR News in Princeville, Hawaii. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.