6. Fledging (First Flight)
In late June or early July, when the chick is about 6 months old, he or she “fledges”. This is the first true flight for the chick. Up until this time, the young albatross make practice runs in the yards and streets, jumping into the air and crashing down in a few feet. Occasionally, they catch the wind for a longer leap, but never more than 20 feet. It is obvious they are not in control of the flight. They still remain close to their original nest site, although they now travel to the adjacent yards.
Mysteriously, each chicks knows the day has come to fledge. Behavior changes radically. The chick appears nervous and agitated, walking into areas previously unknown. Eventually, he or she finds a path to the bluffs behind the houses, overlooking the ocean. Until this day, the albatross has not seen the ocean up close. The bluffs are 150-170 feet above the crashing water below, equivalent to a 15 story building. This has to be a daunting sight for the young bird..
What happens next is incredible. After testing the wind at their take-off point, each chick eventually commits by running towards the edge of the cliff and taking off for the very first time. Once they have lifted off, they fly over the horizon and start searching for where to fish and to live. The first flight takes them out of the sight of land, where they have lived their lives. Having been fed by their parents, a chick has never seen what food looks like in the wild. The parents are not around on fledge day, so each chick has to learn to find and capture food on their own.
Talk about an eventful day. On this special day, the chick sees the ocean up close, takes off of a high cliff, experiences powered flight for the first time, flies out of sight of land, searches the vast Pacific for the food he or she has never seen, sets down on water for the first time, and spends the first night on the open ocean.
That first night is one of many. The chick remains on the open water, without touching land, for 3-5 years, They return to land after that maturing period to start the courting process. Many chicks hatched in Kauai return 3-4 years later to the same yard where they started life. Some have now raised chicks of their own.