Photo by angela7dreams'
It began with a love triangle between two female royal albatrosses and a wannabe male suitor. But girl power prevailed and the ladies dumped their man and set up a same-sex family together at the world’s only mainland albatross breeding colony in New Zealand.
Last week the female seabirds successfully incubated a chick in their all-girl household in the Royal Albatross Colony on South Island, which was hailed by Prince Charles when he visited in 2005 for its successful breeding programme for the rare and endangered birds.
Same-sex pairing is not unusual among the seabirds – the New Zealand breeding colony has had three female pairings over the past 70 years, and at a colony in Hawaii almost a third of chick-raising pairs of laysan albatrosses have been found to be all-female.
But what is unusual about this pair is that they have successfully incubated a chick which is also one of 17 to hatch from 17 eggs at the colony, the first time in 16 years the colony has had a 100 per cent success rate of fertile eggs produced in one season. The previous female pair at the colony lasted for 20 years, but 90 per cent of their eggs were infertile.
The identity of the father of the days-old chick is unknown – it could be one of the numerous males in the 150-strong breeding colony – but what is known is that it will be raised by two mums.
Lyndon Perriman, a ranger with New Zealand's Department of Conservation, said that the royal albatross females would raise their chick exactly the same as any male-female pair would.
For the next six months the new parents will take turns to alternately guard and feed the chick, with one protecting it from predators while the other goes out to sea to forage for food several hundred kilometres away. They swap the roles every two days.
“They need to have a very strong bond, because when they are sitting on the eggs they can sit there for a week or 10 days waiting for the partner to come back, so they need to have a good partner to rely on,” Mr Perriman told The Times.
The strong bond between the seabirds can also include jealousy.
“There would be jealousy. If another male comes along to the nest she [one of the females] would be telling him to bugger off,” Mr Perriman said.
He added that the female pair were also being used as “natural incubators” at the colony, in a similar fashion to the two "homosexual" penguins at a zoo in Germany who last year hatched an abandoned egg and are now rearing the chick.
“We use them as foster parents,” Mr Perriman said. “If another pair has lost a partner, we sometimes take the egg and give it to the female-female pair. They are like a spare natural incubator.”
Lesbian albatrosses become proud parents - Times Online