2. Living with people
While the number of Laysan Albatross on Kauai is relatively small, compared to the massive population in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, there is one unique aspect worth noting. They have chosen to live in populated areas. When the albatross started to colonize the north shore of Kauai, the residential neighborhoods were already in place. This is not a case of development encroaching on their space. Houses, streets, shopping centers, agriculture buildings, and golf courses were already in place.
Usually, they build nests in hedges or under trees near the houses. Albatross are not spooked by lawn mowers, traffic, or other typical neighborhood activities. They are curious, often going up to glass doors and looking into houses or even walking into open garages. The nests in the residential areas present the residents and visitors an opportunity to observe the albatross throughout their life cycle on land. We can watch the courting dances, the nest building, the hatching of the young, and the fledging as the chicks head out on their own.
Respecting their space: When a pair builds a nest, everyone respects their space. If they nest in a lawn area, that section of the lawn is left un-mowed. If they are close to a driveway or road, cones and signs are placed to warn people of their presence.
The general rule is to stay 15-20 feet away from either the adults or the chicks. Because of their calmness in a residential setting, it may appear they are not threatened. By maintaining our distance, we help keep them calm. This is particularly important when they are sitting on an egg. If an albatross does feel threatened by someone too close, they might stand up suddenly and accidentally break the egg.
We use telephoto lenses to be sure we don't get into their space. We use binoculars to safely read the leg tag numbers to keep track of individual birds. Under no circumstance should visitors approach the bird to pet or have photos taken with the bird -- no selfies..
How do we know who is who? Those of us living in the area often talk as if we recognize individual birds. We are often asked how can we tell them apart -- they all look alike. We rely on leg tag numbers attached to the albatross by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Some birds have been around the neighborhood for years, so we remember their numbers. In May, bands are applied to all chicks in the area, so we know which ones come back after years at sea.
How do you tell male from female? Another frequently asked question is how one can tell the sex of an albatross by sight. Many bird species have distinctive coloring or feathering between the male and female. With albatross, there are no outward tips as to sex. We do know the sex of some birds by observing the actual mating act and recording the obvious. We have sometimes seen the act of laying the egg, which is also recorded. In recent years, FWS has kept a feather from each chick as it is banded to conduct DNA testing. The sex is recorded in the data base.