Image: Sophie Webb
There are many reasons that might drive a maturing child to leave its parents' home, and set out independently in the dangerous outside world. In the case of the Homo sapien, this process can be long and drawn out, with many false starts, but for the Rhinoceros Auklet the motivation for leaving home is perhaps a little more clear cut.
Like, mom and dad stop bringing you fish to eat.
Your wings are grown, your feathers full, and your belly cries for fish. The stars and moon reflect upon the dark ocean waters as you scamper down the burrow tunnel. Drawn to the glinting water, you stretch your wings and make your first short flight, landing in the waves of the Pacific, which will be your home hereafter.
You will learn to dive deep in pursuit of small fishes and squid, using your powerful wings to propel yourself underwater. And you will face the myriad dangers of life outside the burrow--fishing lines, oil spills, and powerful storms, to name a few. But with luck and skill, in a few years you will be back at Año Nuevo Island, raising a chick of your own.
I am happy to announce that our experimental new ceramic nest modules, placed this Spring, were successful enough to attract a breeding pair of Rhinoceros Auklets, who raised and fledged a chick in the module we call "The Love Shack." When we checked the Love Shack last week, the chick was gone, and based on its age, weight, and feathering, we can be reasonably sure that it survived and fledged and is currently alive and well out in the ocean somewhere.
Love Shack Chick in its nestImage: Sophie Webb
When last seen, the chick was fully feathered, and had reached a healthy weight of at least 255 grams (it was almost certainly an even healthier, heavier weight than this before fledging but our scale was malfunctioning on our last check). The chick fledged and left the module sometime between July 21st and July 28th. We first observed the egg on April 28th, and first saw the chick on June 9th, meaning that the chick was at least 40 days old when last seen. Survival to 40 days is an important milestone for auklet chicks, and is a strong indicator that they will survive to fledging.
While the Love Shack was the only module to be occupied by a breeding pair this year, the other modules were successful in the fact that they all were visited by Rhinoceros Auklets.
In the "Snail" module, a pair of auklets built an impressively large nest, but did not lay an egg.
Auklets also brought nesting material into the "Two Eyed Gumbi" module. This module, built with two entrances, successfully addressed the issue of competition for space between gulls and auklets by keeping one entrance open and clear for auklet access while a Western Gull utilized the wind-break from the other entrance to build its own nest.
The Two Eyed-GumbiImage: Sophie Webb
The Rebar-Lynch module was also visited by auklets, who left behind tracks and brought soil into the nesting chamber.
The Bread Box module unfortunately broke during the boat crossing and was not deployed this year, though it awaits deployment next season.
So far this year 15 young Rhinos have fledged from boxes, including the Love Shack, and there will certainly be many more fledging this week from both burrows and boxes.
Thanks again to the designers and ceramicists who designed, built, and helped us deploy these awesome new ceramic nest modules.
And if anyone has a little "empty nest syndrome" sadness upon seeing the Love Shack chick leave home, take heart--the little guy is banded and, should he come back to breed at Año, we'll know him when we see him (or her).