Albatross faceplants to fame on New Zealand livestream

Helen Sullivan
·2 min read

An ignoble landing by a royal albatross has been captured on cameras in New Zealand, catapulting the somersaulting bird to dubious fame.

The video begins with a fluffy four-week-old chick looking out over the sea. Soon, to the left of the frame, an adult descends, making its landing feet first, wings back. But when the large webbed appendages hit the ground the bird tumbles forward, face first and flips on to its back. It flails around as its legs pedal furiously in the air before righting itself, staring for a moment into the distance and then shuffling out of frame.

The Royal Cam at New Zealand’s Taiaroa Head nature reserve films the birds’ breeding season. Hoani Langsbury, the reserve’s tourism manager, said that while crash-landings were very common among juvenile albatrosses, this 11 to 12-year-old adult “would have had plenty of time to learn to land properly”.

The fall was most likely caused by a sudden change in the wind, said Langsbury. Albatrosses typically fly around the headland for 10-15 minutes, flying lower and lower until they “flare their wings like a parachute and drop out of the sky”.

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Albatross landings were basically “controlled crashing”, he said, and unlike juvenile albatrosses the bird was unlikely to feel embarrassed by the inelegant entrance.

Crash-landings were most common among “first returners”, he said. Once albatrosses had learned to fly, they would typically spend between four and five years at sea without putting their feet on land.

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When they did return, they tended to “roly-poly on to the ground”, he said. Juveniles tended to feel embarrassed because it made them look foolish in front of a potential first mate.

The northern royal albatross is endemic to New Zealand and is under threat from climate change, fly-strike disease and heat stress.

The Royal Cam livestreams the albatrosses for 24 hours a day during the breeding season. Langsbury said this year’s season had been one of the best on record.