That’s it, you read it right… GRETA HAS FLEDGED! Those of you who have been following along with #AlbatrossStories since the beginning of the year will know Greta very well indeed. Thinking of it like that really puts it into perspective doesn’t it? It has taken Amelia and Atlas (Greta’s mum and dad) just under nine months to raise Greta since she hatched on 21st March. Having returned to land at the end of 2018, following a year apart at sea, they managed to find one another among the cacophony of calls in the colony. Amelia, at the age of 36, laid her 10th egg at the start of January, which we would come to know as Greta. Let’s take a quick look back over the past 12 months, before we welcome in the new year and our new couples, returning for the 2019/20 breeding season!
Images from British Antarctic Survey camera on Bird Island (Image 1: Dad, Image 2: swap over, Image 3: Mum)
During the incubation stage, it took 78 days for Greta (unnamed at the time!) to be ready to face the big and daunting world on Bird Island. Throughout this time Amelia and Atlas sat tight on the nest, taking it in turns to relieve one another from nest duties to go and find food.
In April you all helped us name our dedicated wandering couple just in time for Atlas’ 40th birthday. Mum was named after Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1932. Dad was named after the Ancient Greek titan “Atlas”, depicted holding the world in his hands, both of which we thought were very fitting names. Thank you, again, to Olive Andrews and Paula Redmond for the suggestions.
Shortly after, we started getting our first glimpses of their chick, peeking out from under the safety and warmth of mum and dad’s feathers. By the end of May, this chick also had her name, welcome Greta, named after the determined and dedicated Greta Thunberg. Greta (the albatross!) seemed to grow visibly every week. By now she no longer needed the external warmth of her parents, and was fast becoming a strong and independent albatross.. Come July ,whilst those of us in Northern Hemisphere were relaxing in the mid-summer sun, Greta and her colony-mates were patiently waiting for dinner under a blanket of snow in sub-Antarctic conditions, temperatures dropping well below zero and winds of 50-60 knots (100 km/h), relying on their ‘puppy fat’ to keep them warm.
But Spring was on the horizon, and with it a new lease of life for Bird Island. At this time of year, the chicks in the colony are at their heaviest, the average chick weight was 16kg (adult weight 8-10kg), and for good reason, Greta was gearing up for some of the most important months of her life. It all started to become very real for all of us watching when we started noticing Greta’s juvenile black feathers showing underneath her fluffy down. All these developments were preparing her for the first 5/7 years of her life, spending that entire time out at sea, resting and feeding on the ocean and travelling thousands of miles exploring the high-seas!
The past month has by far been the most exciting and nerve racking (but we won’t tell her that!). Images were coming through showing Greta beginning to practise one of albatrosses most impressive characteristics… flight! Albatross have the ability to fly miles on end, without so much as a flap. Utilising a tendon across their wings, essentially locking them in place, they follow trade winds and use the changing ocean currents to glide above the water reaching speeds of up to 110 km/h, hardly even increasing their heart rate. The ability to do this is innate, built into Greta’s DNA, but that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t practice and at the end of November, the #AlbatrossStories community was split, had she fledged? Or was she still on Bird Island?...
Mid-December, we had our answer, she had finally fledged the nest on the 3rd December and is currently exploring her new home, the vast expanse of the Southern Ocean! She is on her own now, and we won’t hear from her again until it is time for her to return to Bird Island, to start a family of her own. GOOD LUCK GRETA! Despite Greta having left the island, thanks to a new project by British Antarctic Survey and BirdLife international (funded by Darwin PLUS), we will be following along with some of Greta’s friends on their new adventures, into the New Year. Just prior to fledging satellite tags (PTT’s) were attached to wandering albatross juveniles leaving Bird Island, click here to learn more.
Although now “on her own”, Greta has the support of the whole Albatross Task Force and #AlbatrossStories community behind her. You can also become a Friend of the Albatross, helping support the ongoing work by the Albatross Task Force across the globe, protecting these extraordinary birds in the areas they need it most.
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Albatross Stories is funded by the Darwin Initiative, South Georgia Heritage Trust, and Friends of South Georgia Island.
Photo credits: Rosie Hall, Derren Fox and Alex Dodds
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