Saturday, November 27, 1999

Rare albatross may have
finally found Mr. Right

Midway's lonesome female short-tail
has been seen in a mating
dance with a male

Star-Bulletin staff


After wintering for six years at Midway Atoll without finding a mate, Midway's lone female short-tailed albatross -- one of the rarest birds in the world -- may have found a partner, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Biologists at Midway Atoll National Wildlife National Refuge report a male short-tailed albatross showed up this year and went through a mating ritual with the female.

The female has flown off, possibly to feed to help produce an egg.

"The current population is so low that the remote possibility of a successful union of these birds on Midway is exciting," said Robert Smith, Pacific Islands Ecoregion manager.

The short-tailed albatross, commonly called the "golden gooney," has a wingspan of 7 feet and stands 3 feet tall, much larger than the Laysan and black-footed albatrosses that blanket Midway's two islands during mating season.

The short-tailed albatross was declared extinct in 1949, but in 1951 a colony of 10 birds was discovered on Torishima Island in Japan. Today, there are at least 230 breeding pairs, all in Japan.

Albatrosses don't breed until the age of 6, and then only once every two years. They mate for life and usually return to their breeding grounds to have their young.

They are found across the Pacific Ocean, with the Northwest Hawaiian Islands at the south end of their range and the Aleutian Islands their northern boundary.

The female on Midway is 18 years old and has returned to the atoll every year during the nesting season in search of a mate, according to the wildlife service.

This year, a male landed about 150 yards away. After several days of waiting for the two to find each other, refuge manager Rob Shallenberger assisted by moving the male within 40 feet of the female, it said.

An hour later, they were engaged in the mating dance.

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