The Many Faces of Laysan Albatross Chicks

You’ve got your Elvis with the long sideburns. You’ve got your classic Bozo. Sometimes, there’s a Mohawk in the crowd. Even a Jarhead. But the goal is a chrome dome, a Telly Savalas.

As the longest stretch of time—four months—a Laysan albatross spends on land comes to a close, our chicks are near fledging. Their downy feathers float into the wind that will soon carry this year’s cohort to the far horizon. (Two of my group–I called them “super chicks”–have already fledged. They hatched early and got well fed by their dedicated, experienced parents.)

From the neck down, most of these chicks look like adults, with white body feathers and grey-brown feathers on their wings. But from the neck up, it’s anyone’s cut.

Once they fledge, chicks spend their longest stretch of time at sea—three to five years—before touching land again. These are special times in Laysan albatross’ life.

Before that happens, Laysan albatross chicks must endure an awkward stage, some might even describe them as ungainly, or—gasp—ugly. Not me, of course.

All this reminds me of my teenage years when my girl friends sported the look-alike locks of Farrah Fawcett, and all the stick-straight strings hanging from my head could muster was a halfway decent Dorothy Hamill.

My hair has never been my strong suit. I could never pull off Julia Roberts’ bountiful curls from Pretty Woman, Princess Diana’s layered pageboy look, or the Rachel cut. You’d think I could have managed Gwyneth Paltrow’s pin-straight hair, but I was uninterested in taking a flat iron to my head each and every morning.

It’s only today, in my 50s, more than ten years after I stopped coloring my hair that I finally have headline hair. I know that because the boxed ads on Facebook are telling me #grannyhair is in. That grey is the new black. I know this because complete strangers—men and women—tap me on the shoulder and whisper in my ear, “I love your hair,” and I know they’re not referring to the cut. But the color.

So, H005 and H023 and H014 and all the rest of the 35 Laysan albatross chicks that I am watching stretch their wings and gather at cliff sides as they face their first flights, know this: The awkward stage will end. It just may take a few decades. Take Wisdom. She’s your tribe’s spokesperson—known as the oldest, living wild bird in the world. She’s 63, a senior citizen, and she snags all the avian headlines. She even has her own Facebook page.

These may be some of the last photos I’ll share of Laysan albatross this year. They’re best viewed as a slide show. Just click on the first image in the series, and then click the right arrow button.

This blog post is dedicated to my best friend Tommye Lou Morris. Not because she’s older than I am or has better hair;-) But because she sent me the most benign-seeming text after I posted a recent photo of a Laysan chick on Facebook: It is interesting how the fluff comes off the chicks.

4 thoughts on “The Many Faces of Laysan Albatross Chicks

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