Words like “majestic” and “regal” are high up on the vocabulary leaderboards for wildlife documentaries, which capture some of nature’s most athletic species performing acrobatics and elaborate courtship displays with precision and grace. However, much like humans, animals are fallible, and sometimes with the help of remote camera traps (remember the skunk dunk?) or live-streaming nesting cams we catch the occasional glimpse of epic fails unfolding within the animal kingdom.
One such ludicrous display emerged from New Zealand this week, as a nesting camera set up to broadcast live images from a colony of royal albatrosses caught the less than dignified landing of one of its resident birds. Luckily for us, the footage, captured by New Zealand's Department of Conservation, was retrieved and even edited in slow motion so you can catch all the leg-flailing, feather-bending action in the video below.
The royal faceplant by one royal albatross was filmed at the Taiaroa Head (TH) nature reserve in New Zealand. Talking to the Guardian, TH tourism manager Hoani Langsbury said that going cloaca-over-wing is commonplace among juveniles, but being an adult this specific individual “would have had plenty of time to learn to land properly.” The very relatable footage plays out like something from a Popeye cartoon, as the bird in question lands head first, flips onto its back, and is seen comically pedaling its legs in the air before righting itself — all in glorious slow motion.
Albatrosses have some of the widest wingspans among birds, with wandering albatrosses clocking maximum lengths of 3.7 meters (12.1 feet) while royals are nearer the 3-meter (10-feet) mark. Commonly occupying coastal habitats, where winds can be strong and changeable, adults typically approach the ground very slowly before tilting the angle of the wings to float down a bit like a parachute. The reason for this particular albatross’s less than elegant entry is probably the result of coming in too hot and failing to adjust the wing angle in a way that might’ve prevented it from face-planting the ground.
When chicks graduate to juveniles they’ll leave home and might not return for up to five years, during which time their feet needn’t touch dry land. It’s perhaps understandable then that crash-landing rates are high among the reserve’s first returners who commonly roly-poly back into the reserve — far from ideal when you’re trying to impress potential mates. Albatross chicks needn't do anything to fetch a similar laugh, having been (quite aptly) compared to an "unfinished muppet".
The Royal Cam broadcasts the latest hijinks from the reserve 24 hours a day, and this year brought with it good news as it’s thought the breeding season has been one of the best on record. Records for breeding albatross have been beaten elsewhere in the 2021 season, as albatross Wisdom — the world’s oldest known wild bird — recently successfully hatched an egg at 70 years young.