Shy Albatross Make Artificial Nests Their Own—Giving Scientists Hope for Their Species

The birds are increasingly facing threats from climate change, but artificial nests may give them time to adapt.

Shy albatross don't just mate anywhere or with anyone.

They prefer to do it in the same place every year and with the same partner.

But on Bass Strait's Albatross Island near Tasmania, scientists say a changing climate has been killing the mood.

Rising temperatures are making it harder for the birds' chicks to survive. A 2015 study found chicks are prone to overheating.

Rising sea levels and increasingly torrential rainfall are also making it more difficult for the birds to construct quality nests that stay intact.

While the birds have also been impacted by fisheries and may spend longer finding food, a group of conservationists from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Australia's CSIRO Marine Climate Impact group, and the Tasmanian Albatross Fund say one viable–albeit expensive–solution could help give the birds time to adapt.

Artificial nests, one type reinforced with concrete called hebel, the other mixed with coconut fibers, were flown to the island by helicopter last July. Roughly 120 in total were made. Now, the WWF is announcing that the nests seem to be working.

Breeding pairs that used the artificial nests had a 20 percent higher success rate in raising their chick than those that used natural nests.

It's only the first trial, says Nikhil Advani, the WWF's lead specialist on climate, communities, and biodiversity—but it has a lot of promise to help the species.

Worldwide, the IUCN classifies shy albatross as near threatened, but in and around Australia, they're considered vulnerable.

According to Advani, the team of conservationists and scientists initially weren't sure if the birds would take to their human-made nests.

But not only did they take, he said, but the birds also "personalized" them by adding their own mud and vegetation as if it was built by the pair.

"Some species can adapt to changes in climate but, in order to do that, they have to have good habitat," says Advani.

While quality nests are only one issue facing the shy species, Advani hopes they'll help baby albatross chicks enter the world on more stable ground.

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