Man-made nests boost shy albatross breeding season

Just like human families, shy albatross also like to make a house into a home.

Climate change has threatened the future of the endemic Australian bird species, but a program launched last year is looking to turn that around.

The albatross only breed on three islands, all off the coast of Tasmania.

One of those islands is their namesake: Albatross Island, in the Bass Strait.

About six months ago, conservation scientists took action. They installed, on the island, more than 100 “fake” bird nests for the albatross’ breeding season.

Changes in the climate for the island mean the birds’ naturally constructed nests weren’t always viable – they were hit with extreme and wild weather, meaning the nests and their contents were destroyed.

But the man-made mudbrick and aerated concrete nests appear to be changing that.

Scientists returned to the island in December, to check on the colony’s progress since nesting began in September. All results indicate the the trial appears to have been successful.

Not only are there dozens of fluffed-up albatross chicks happily clucking away, their parents have personalised the nests with mud and vegetation – a sure sign they’ve accepted the nests as their own.

The Albatross Island project is a colloboration between scientists and funding partners from the Tasmanian and federal governments, WWF-Australia, CSIRO Marine Climate Impact, and the Tasmanian Albatross Fund.

Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment wildlife biologist Rachael Alderman explained that shy albatross laid one egg in late September.

“Those eggs have now hatched,” Dr Alderman said.

“At this stage in the trial, the breeding success of pairs on artificial nests is 20 per cent higher than those on natural nests.”

But Dr Alderman explained the chicks still had a way to go, and the next part of their journey will also be monitored.

“When the chicks [are about to] fly from the island for the very first time, some will have tiny satelitte trackers attached,” Dr Alderman said.

“These devices will capture the movements of the first few months at sea and provide scientists with crucial information about why fewer juveniles are surviving.” 

CSIRO research scientist Alistair Hobday said the update was exciting news, that would help scientists and conservationists prepare for further climate change events.

“In the face of climate change, new approaches will need to be developed, tested and evaluated – we are building a toolbox of options and this latest news is very encouraging,” Mr Hobday said.