Hawaii News

Eggs-quisite translocation: Laysan albatross eggs moved from Pacific Missile Range Facility, Barking Sands

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Story and photos by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Bodie Estep

Driving nearby the airfield on Pacific Missile Range Facility, Barking Sands, U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services biologist Tessa Broholm spotted a large bird.

She stopped and exited the truck, and while approaching the bird she realized it was resting on an egg about twice the size of a chicken egg. Getting to where the bird was roosted, Broholm put on her glove and reached for the egg.

Tessa Broholm, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, collects an egg from a Laysan albatross Dec. 10, 2023, at Pacific Missile Range Facility, Barking Sands, on Kaua‘i.

The bird — a Laysan albatross — took a couple of steps back, allowing the wildlife biologist to grab the egg, but continued to look on as Broholm secured the egg to be transported to Pacific Missile Range Facility Natural Resources. Once the egg was secure, she returned to the bird, which made no move to escape even as Broholm scooped it up for a closer look at two tags around its ankles.

Once she had the information she needed, she set the bird down and it wobbled away.

Since 2005, the environmental team at the missile range facility on Kaua‘i has worked with the Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard Initiative to conduct the annual Laysan Albatross Translocation Program.


“A primary concern out here at [Pacific Missile Range Facility] is the birds that use the airspace surrounding the airfield,” said Broholm. “One of those is the Laysan albatross, which is a large-bodied bird with a wing span of up to 6 feet, which could be catastrophic for pilots and aircraft.”

Albatross, which can live for possibly more than 70 years, usually return to where they were hatched to nest. This makes creating a long-term solution to prevent them from being on or around hazardous areas a unique challenge. The translocation project allows biologists to relocate albatross eggs to other areas on Kaua‘i and O‘ahu.

If the eggs hatch elsewhere, the hope is the hatchlings will grow up and when ready to nest will return to those other, safer areas where they were born.

Albatross form an attachment to their nest rather than the egg, so they will raise any chick hatched from an egg as long as the egg is in their nest. That means eggs can be relocated off the missile range facility without risk of the chick being abandoned.

By collecting and moving the eggs from the Kaua‘i missile range facility, the number of birds on the installation is reduced while the overall population is not harmed.


Throughout the breeding season, sailors, USDA and missile range personnel conduct sweeps around base to find albatross eggs for USDA personnel to collect. These volunteers split up to search through areas of vegetation, with specific focus on high-hazard locations.

A Laysan albatross sits on its egg Dec. 10, 2023, at Pacific Missile Range Facility, Barking Sands.

After the eggs are collected, they are incubated until the translocation.

In order to determine whether an egg is viable, biologists do a process called candling, or shining a light into an egg in a dark room to see if there are veins and evidence of a growing embryo.

Scientists conduct the same candling technique to determine viable eggs on Kaua‘i’s North Shore; however, it is slightly different. Instead of being in a dark room, biologists use a light-blocking hood.

Come translocation day, non-viable North Shore eggs are switched with viable eggs from the missile range facility, allowing the albatross chick to be born and raised on the North Shore.


“We’re preserving the population of Laysan albatross by moving them to safer areas on the North Shore,” Broholm said.

Eggs that are not viable are sent to the National Institute of Standards and Technology or the Seabird Tissue Archival and Monitoring Project as part of a long-term study of environmental quality.

It is predicted rising sea levels could reduce the breeding areas of these birds in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, where the vast majority of the population breeds. The translocation process offers the opportunity for the high-island population to persist, which is important to the longevity of the species.

Preserving native species such as the Laysan albatross plays a vital role in the well-being of the islands and the entire ecosystem throughout all of Hawai‘i.

“Our No. 1 priority is health and human safety and that comes in the form of making sure the pilots and aircraft are safe from wildlife strikes,” Broholm said.

For more information, email to PMRFPublicAffairs@us.navy.mil or click here.

Tessa Broholm, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, reaches for a Laysan albatross Dec. 10, 2023, at Pacific Missile Range Facility, Barking Sands, on Kaua‘i.

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