Halfway to fledge

By Safina Center Fellow Hob Osterlund

Kalama, the Laysan albatross star of Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s live streaming “TrossCam,” is now twelve weeks old, which means she’s crossed the halfway point on her way to fledge. A tiny nestling can grow into a full-grown and magnificent mōlī—as they are known in Hawaiian—in twenty weeks or more.

Mōlī chick, two weeks old

During that time, Kalama has charmed her way into the hearts of viewers from all over the world, and Cornell has already tallied more than six hundred thousand hits. Now in its fourth season, the TrossCam has continued to increase in popularity from each year to the next.

Unlike most baby birds, Kalama has two moms. Female-female pairs are not uncommon among the mōlī of Kauai, but their eggs are typically infertile. The solution? Replace with fertile eggs from the other side of the island, where the U.S. Navy and the Pacific Missile Range Facility discourage nesting because of concerns about bird-aircraft collisions. Albatross tend to like runways for the same reasons pilots do, so the risk is very real.

Mōlī near runway, Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai

By this age, Kalama rarely sees her parents. Foraging for a growing chick is a fulltime job, and the North Pacific is a vast empire covering millions of square miles. Her adoptive mothers, Mahealani and Pilialoha, return to Kauai to feed their babe about once every two weeks.

There are seven other chicks in Kalama’s colony. She’s likely to have some degree of exposure to two of them sometime soon: one chick is down a slope about fifty feet away, just out of view. The other is on the other side of a garage, but is already within Kalamaʻs view. As they get older, all the young mōlī will come out into the open and out into the wind. They need to strengthen their wings, and if thereʻs anything they love, itʻs a good squall.

Mōlī chick, nine weeks old

Mōlī chick, twelve weeks old

Since before Kalama hatched, the Kauai Albatross Network has been collecting video clips that depict her life. A trailer of a short film called “Kalama’s Journey”—part documentary, part poetry— will be available soon. Watch for it here on the Safina Center blog.

Hob Osterlund is a Safina Center Fellow and the author of Holy Mōlī: Albatross and Other Ancestors. Holy Mōlī is an INDIE Book of the Year finalist.

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