Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick: Blargh of the Albatross (for the Week of Jan. 28, 2007)

January 24, 2007

Q. Dear Twig: This one time, at science camp, an albatross (albatross!) threw up on my aunt.

A. Whoa! Thanks for sharing. Here's what I think: I think that the camp took a trip to a rookery. (A place where some bird types, such as albatrosses, breed in huge groups of nests.)

And that maybe, just maybe, the albatrosses there thought your aunt and her friends were predators. (Albatrosses, big seabirds, live on the southern oceans. They nest on land, often on islands.)

And that maybe, just maybe, the birds took action to keep themselves and their babies safe.

Blargh!

It happens.

A cool book called Antipredator Defenses in Birds and Mammals says bug an albatross and it will barf gross stomach oil on you.

The gunk, the book notes, "is a very effective means of defense." It makes the feathers of birds (such as gulls) get soggy. It makes the fur of mammals (such as foxes) "foul smelling."

Aunts are mammals but aren't usually furry.

Twig

P.S. Another name for the albatross: gooney bird. Goofy on land but great in the air!

Notes: In Ohio, check out Ohio 4-H Sea Camp, http://woostercenter.osu.edu/4-h/scinfo.html. (Note: No albatrosses. But gulls. So many gulls.) Source: Antipredator Defenses in Birds and Mammals by Tim Caro (The University of Chicago Press, 2005), specifically the chapter "Flight and Behaviors of Last Resort," subsection "Counterattack." An apparently unbombed Edgar Allan Poe on albatrosses in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym: "Nothing can be more astonishing than the spirit of reflection evinced by these feathered beings, and nothing can be better calculated to elicit reflection in every well-regulated human intellect." Send questions/ science camp tales to Twig at knebusch.1@osu.edu.

About this column: "Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick," a free public service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences - specifically, of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) and Ohio State University Extension, both part of the College - is a weekly column for children about science, nature, farming and the environment. The reading level typically rates at grades 3.5-4.5. For details, to ask Twig a question, and/or to receive the column free by mail or e-mail, contact Kurt Knebusch, CommTech, OSU/OARDC,1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691, knebusch.1@osu.edu, (330) 263-3776. Online at extension.osu.edu/~news/archive.php?series=science.

Author(s): 
Kurt Knebusch