Short-tailed Albatross Concerns



The recent sighting of a Short-tailed Albatross in Southern California waters is certainly exciting. This is an exceptionally rare species with numbers in the low thousands. I'm not up on the latest population estimates but likely 5,000 or so. I've seen a couple off Northern CA, and it was a thrill to see one of these great seabirds. Rumors of some poor birder behavior on the chase trip compelled me to weigh in with some thoughts on this sighting. Note this is not a criticism of the organizer of the trip (who is not a birder per se, but has the connections to organize a trip on short notice. 

It is my understanding that the "chase trip" to locate the bird found the bird after some searching and good views were had by all. The bird had an extreme amount of feather damage on one wing, and a result was reluctant to fly long-distances. After re-finding the bird in LA County, a substantial amount of effort was made to lure the bird several miles to Orange County so some birders could "tick" it for another county. This was accomplished by feeding the bird popcorn, and that effort was eventually successful;

Popcorn in small amounts used as chum (mostly to attract gulls who eat almost anything, is likely not problematic. Giving large amounts of it to a highly threatened species that is impaired and induce it to use energy to move it a couple of miles over a sustained period of time is inappropriate at best, unethical for sure, and quite possibly illegal at worst.

A someone who particpates in lots of pelagic trips (in fact I was at sea off North Carolina when I first heard about the fishing vessel sighting the Short-tailed), I certainly can understand the excitement of seeing such a special bird, but it is also incumbent on all of us to consider the welfare of the birds. Particularly when it's a species as rare as Short-tailed Albatross. I wasn't on the trip, so my knowledge isn't first-hand, and those who participated are welcome to provide input if they disagree with my assessment. I'm not going to call out anyone by name publicly, but I felt obligated to provide some comments based on what was related to me. 

Todd McGrath
The Woodlands TX

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