The breeding season begins with the return of the first bird

After seven months of the Roaring Forties surge, a northern royal albatross has returned to the Taiaroa Head colony on the Otago Peninsula, marking the start of a new breeding season for endemic birds.

The Royal Albatross Center said yesterday Department of Conservation rangers spotted a bird known as OL (Orange/Lime) on the headland on Tuesday.

OL had not been seen for seven months as the birds circled the southern end of the planet, a celebratory statement from the center said.

To honor the finish, bells rang across Dunedin at 1pm yesterday.

Doc ranger Sharyn Broni says OL was a 12-year-old who was seen hanging out with a potential mate last summer.

Time will tell if she laid an egg in November, she said.

Otago Peninsula Trust ecotourism director Hoani Langsbury said between 35 and 50 breeding pairs are expected to give birth to more than two dozen chicks as the Dunedin colony continues to grow.

About 150 to 170 adult birds summered at the colony, but not all of them were breeders, Langsbury said.

Some birds that would return this year were first-time returns that would not have visited the place they flew from, or any land, for five or six years.

The birds could reach 10 or 11 years old before starting to breed.

But regardless of their age, the birds often appeared to be staggering on their feet when they returned because they hadn’t had to support their own body weight for such a long time.

Last year the first bird of the breeding season returned to Dunedin a week early, but Mr Langsbury said the colony had had chicks that had fledged in the past two weeks and the birds Breeders usually started arriving before the last chick fledged.

As of now, 16 of last season’s 25 chicks have not yet fledged.

With the species’ population center in the Chatham Islands, where 17,000 to 23,000 birds lived, the birds remained very rare on the mainland where around 250 birds lived, he said.

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