Laysan Albatross Chicks: Home Alone.

Leaving any situation can be hard. Preparing to leave can be exhausting.

When my husband and I moved to Hawaii over 15 years ago, we spent months getting the house in pristine condition in order to sell it. Painting. Re-carpeting. New roof. When the place went on the market, it was a more complete home than the day we moved in. Then, once the house sold, and we realized we really were moving to Hawaii and not just talking about it anymore, we got rid of everything. Spices. Spatulas. Lawn mower. Even my husband’s prized Weber grill. My purging ritual went like this: Can it be replaced? If it could, the item–tortilla warmer, cookie jar in the shape of a cow, golf clubs–got sold for pennies on the dollar at a garage sale or given to friends or donated to a non-profit charity. If it couldn’t–wedding pictures, Grandma’s wine glass collection, a few of my favorite first-edition books–it went in the smallest storage unit we could rent. This stripping down of a life took months.

When we finally boarded our plane for Hawaii, I sat in my seat and wept.

Leaving a home, good friends, and a great family is hard. Even when you’re excited for a new frontier. But sometimes–for your sake and theirs–you have to go.

That’s just what this Laysan albatross’ parents have recently done.

After a couple months of taking turns incubating their egg and another few weeks of diligently sitting on and standing over their chick, these parents finally flew to the sea. They had to. They were hungry.

This is the time of the albatross season when we humans despair: When the chicks are left alone for the first time. It’s when our hearts squeeze in concern for the survival of the chicks.

A sudden and powerful rainstorm hit this week right as I was surveying the Laysan albatross colony I monitor. Both chicks and me got drenched.

laysan albatoss chick endures a rainstorm
Laysan albatross chick endures a soaking.

This chick, the oldest of the group, the one I wrote about when it first hatched and again as it grew too big for its parent to sit on, has started to explore. It’s already scooted outside its nest cup a few precious feet into a grassy area.

But another, much younger chick, I found sitting in a puddle of water inside its nest cup. Rain was running down tree branches, collecting at a convergence of limbs and dumping directly onto the chick, soaking its down and dripping me with concern. It’s so little, I thought. It’s so wet, I worried.

But this is their nature, their biology, I always have to remind myself. The chicks are built to sit for days waiting for their next meal. The parents are designed to fly away from family and friends in order to nourish themselves so they can return to nourish their chick. And the chick’s down is snuggly warm, even in rain, I reminded myself.

Still, I worry. I dream about these chicks. That’s what caring can do.

It wasn’t easy for these chicks’ parents to leave them. On the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Albatross Cam, I’ve watched parents return from sea, feed their chicks, and walk outside the camera’s view several times, attempting takeoffs, only to return a few minutes later for one last preen with their chick.

We all have to do what we’re born to do. What that inner drive tells, whether it’s moving halfway across a continent and an ocean to live on island or flying north to the cold waters of Alaska for a meal.

When Laysan albatross return with full bellies, their chicks whistle and peck at their parents’ bill. This triggers a response in the parent. It will dip its head, lift its tail feathers, and regurgitate a protein-packed smoothie of squid oil. Something I call golden nectar. It looks like this:

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