New Zealand's Sub-Antarctic Islands - 2008

decline of the species. Researchers are continuing their work to determine the cause of the disease. Besides seeking ways to prevent the recurrence of this disease, DOC concentrates its efforts at protecting this species through eradication of predators from its breeding and nesting grounds. Enderby Island is another of the places that DOC has proclaimed predator free at present. However, in other areas which the yellow-eye inhabits on the mainland, this project has no chance of success since the reserves cannot be maintained predator free—so the effort is aimed at controlling predation. At present there are approximately 4000-5000 breeding pairs accounted for by DOC. The other wildlife treat on Enderby, at the end of our tiring walk, was the “gamming” performed for us by 5 Gibson’s albatross. So what is “gamming” all about? It is a behavior engaged in mostly by young albatross who are learning to identify potential mates and to create lasting pair bonds. The adult albatross who are just beginning to return from their 5-7 years at sea since fledging swoop about and eye one another. Then two or more may land and examine each other more closely through patterned and imitative dancing, sky pointing, calling in their braying voices, soft bill kisses and bill clicking, and then preening one another. Usually the birds in a “gam” will not be mature enough to breed but they are practicing the skills they will need when they return in the following year with serious business on their minds. The elaborate courtship dances will evolve into the behavior that allows the pair bonds to recognize each other every other year when they return to mate and raise a chick once again. Our chance to watch the “gamming” involved 5 birds at first, but then one of them decided that “five is a crowd” so he left the other four to their socializing. There was much spreading of wings presumably to demonstrate size, dancing in circles to show stamina and strength perhaps, criss-crossing of bills with one another creating a clicking sound, and pointing their long bills straight up into the sky. The birds are so brilliantly white and impressive in size against the beautiful background of the megaherbs covering the rolling ground around them. The activity was awe-inspiring and curiously uplifting.

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