Some albatrosses in the Gulf of Mexico are divorcing because of a warming, murkier Gulf.
Mothers can no longer find enough food to feed their young, causing some to split up from their mate, according to a study led by the National Wildlife Federation.
Some of the most distinctive species in the world, the hummingbirds of the sky, adapt to any environment to defend their young.
“It’s an extreme example of the life-and-death struggles that albatrosses are going through right now,” said marine biologist Chris Hoofnagle, who led the study.
Hoofnagle released 18 adult albatrosses with babies at the Smithsonian Institution, where he works. He wanted to see if their diets changed as the Gulf of Mexico warmed.
Alfatates are common breeding sites for black pelicans, gulls and gulls. In June, adults provide plenty of prey for their young in the Gulf. The birds usually stay for several months before going to a nesting site of another kind in Canada or Mexico.
So where are the albatrosses now?
The adult pelicans are breeding farther north and leaving the Gulf for new destinations, such as South Carolina. Black pelicans are shifting back and forth between the Gulf and Canada, the study found.
Black pelicans, which spend months on Gulf shores, have already shifted from shrimp and small crustaceans to bigger, drier fish, Hoofnagle said.
Mothers fed one or two plastic water bottles to each bird as part of the study, which was reported in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE. Most birds have a good base of water sources to feed their chicks, he said.
The only thing that’s changing is the quality, which disturbs adults.
“They’re still eating. But the quality is changing, and they’re not getting the seeds as much,” Hoofnagle said.
It’s not easy for mothers to split, because mom’s new suitor is still not dependent. Some hybridizations, however, do develop.
“I think these changes are causing these hybridizations, because they’re trying to choose a mate in a way where they can both feed and breed,” Hoofnagle said.
He wrote that loss of seabirds in the Gulf may be upsetting more than one parent, adding to stress that may already be causing half the flock to part ways.
“This may reduce the success of that pair, in turn producing new migrants, some of whom may eventually be separated from their moms,” he wrote.