3. Mating and Nesting
Albatross mate for life, returning each year to reunite with their mates. Mates return at different times in November, so we get the impression they are not together during their time at sea between nesting periods. Some pairs have been coming to the same general area for years. For instance, one pair has nested in the same yard 9 times in 10 years.
If one mate doesn't return for some reason, the surviving albatross may eventually find a new mate. The loss of a mate is a mystery, but the assumption is he or she has been killed at sea. Albatross can be snared by commercial fishing lines or caught in nets. They can also ingest plastic floating in the ocean that interferes with their metabolism.
Male and female share equally: In late November or early December, the reunited pair will pick a place for the nest and produce an egg. A pair lays just one egg a year. Albatross are ground nesters. Both mates pull together a pile of leaves, dirt, and twigs to build a low mound.
Both the male and the female take equal responsibility for the egg and the chick. One mate will stay on the egg full time, while the other flies off to feed. Feeding grounds are 600-2000 miles away. Because of the distance involved in the round trip, the feeding parent could be gone for one to two weeks. The sitting parent never leaves the egg unattended, so he or she does not eat or walk until relieved
Mating behavior - the dance: Breeding generally starts when an albatross is 6-7 years old. We are now seeing birds who were hatched in the neighborhood return to mate and raise chicks of their own. Adolescent albatross (4-6 years old) and unattached adults spend time on the island during the November-May time frame. They are getting to know possible mates for future pairing. We refer to that period as “spring break”. Sometimes, more than a half dozen non-parents will congregate in a yard to dance and socialize.
The mating dance is a combination of moves and songs which are fun to watch. Albatross have several distinctive sounds - a piercing whistle, a guttural "sky moo", and a rapid clacking of beaks like a drum roll. This is accompanied by a variety of moves, such as bobbing, pointing the beak straight up, and placing the head under a wing.