Issue 10.2: April / May 2007

It's a Moli's life

story by Pat Davis
photo by Monte Costa

Anyone who’s ever dreamt of being a bird might want to take a step back and consider the life of the moli, or Laysan albatross. Five to six months after their birth, juvenile albatross take to the sea—where they’ll remain for three to five years before returning to the nesting colony where they were born. With a body that reaches two feet long and a wingspan of between six and seven feet, moli are by no means small birds—though they are a bit dainty in relation to other members of the albatross family.

Moli have an average lifespan of between twelve and forty years, and are monogamous (though they will choose a new mate if one should die). Each year from November to July, adult pairs and single juveniles return to their nesting colonies to mate and raise their young—a process which generally finds the males doing the majority of the incubation once the female lays a single egg. Chicks are generally hatched in January or February, and by July are ready to take to the skies, their parents having long since departed.

While some moli have established nesting colonies in the main Hawaiian Islands—most notably at Kaua‘i’s Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge and, to a lesser extent at O‘ahu’s Ka‘ena Point—the vast majority make their home in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Midway Atoll is home to seventy-one percent of the world’s moli nests … which works out to nearly 400,000 breeding pairs. —Pat Davis