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Egg-squisite Translocation

18 December 2023

From MC2 Bodie Estep, Pacific Missile Range Facility Public Affairs

KEKAHA, Hawaii – Since 2005, the environmental team at PMRF Barking Sands has been working with the Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) initiative in conducting the annual Laysan Albatross Translocation Program.

Driving through a field not far from the airfield on Pacific Missile Range Facility, Barking Sands, Tessa Broholm, a wildlife biologist with USDA Wildlife Services, spots a large bird. 

Broholm stops and exits the truck. As she approaches the bird, she realizes it is resting on an egg about twice the size of a chicken egg. She puts on her glove and reaches for the egg. The bird takes a couple of steps back, allowing Broholm to grab the egg. The bird continues to look on as Broholm secures the egg to be transported to PMRF Natural Resources. Once the egg is secure, Broholm returns to the bird, which makes no move to escape as Broholm scoops it up for a closer look at the two tags around its ankles. Once Broholm has the information she needs, she sets the bird down and it wobbles away. 

“A primary concern out here at PMRF 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 six feet, which could be catastrophic for pilots and aircraft.”

Since 2005, the environmental team at PMRF Barking Sands has been working with the Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) initiative in conducting the annual Laysan Albatross Translocation Program. Albatross, living to possibly over 70 years old, 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 the islands of Kauai and Oahu. If the eggs hatch elsewhere, the hope is that they will return to those other, safer areas where they hatched, when they are ready to nest.

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. This means eggs can be relocated off of PMRF without risk of the chick being abandoned. By collecting and moving the eggs at PMRF, the number of birds on the installation is reduced, but the overall population is not harmed. 

Throughout the breeding season, sailors, USDA and PMRF personnel conduct sweeps around base to find albatross eggs for USDA personnel to collect. These volunteers split up to search through vegetative areas, with specific focus on high-hazard areas. After the eggs are collected, they are incubated until the translocation. In order to determine whether an egg is viable, meaning it is fertilized and developing an embryo, the biologists do a process called candling. Candling at PMRF consists of shining a light into an egg in a dark room, to see if there are the veins and evidence of a growing embryo.

Scientists conduct the same candling technique to determine viable eggs on the north shore of Kauai. The candling on the north shore is slightly different, however. Instead of being in a dark room, biologists use a light-blocking hood in order to complete the process. Come translocation day, north shore eggs that are considered not viable are switched with the viable PMRF eggs, allowing the albatross chick to be born and raised on the north shore. 

“We are able to swap out inviable eggs from the north shore with viable eggs from PMRF,” said Broholm. “So we’re preserving the population of Laysan Albatross by moving them to safer areas on the north shore.” 

Eggs that are determined to be 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 over time and regions. 

It is predicted that the rising of sea levels could reduce the breeding areas of these birds in the north-western 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 moving forward. Preserving native species such as the albatross plays a vital role in the wellbeing of the islands and the entire ecosystem throughout all of the Hawaiian islands.

“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,” said Broholm. 

For more information about PMRF’s environmental program, please call the Natural Resources Hotline at (808) 208-4416, or visit

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