Chicky McChickface rears its head as New Zealand looks to name treasured albatross

A royal albatross chick in New Zealand whose life has attracted millions of views via a live YouTube channel has found fame – but has no name.

Now its keepers are seeking to change that, as the seven-month-old female – or toroa in the Māori language te reo – prepares to leave the nest for a journey that will take her away for the next four years.

Name ideas have been flowing in for the “gangly adolescent”, including Dr Ashley Bloomfield – New Zealand’s popular health director who is credited with helping guide the country through coronavirus – and the ever-present theme of Chicky McChickface, in tribute to the famed Boaty McBoatface campaign.

Regardless of the chick’s name, it will be an ambassador for its kind, which faces a range of threats and challenges including impacts from fishing and plastic pollution and the growing effects of the climate crisis on ocean temperatures and feeding grounds.

The albatross has lived her whole life on Pukekura/Taiaroa Head in New Zealand’s Otago Peninsula, but will soon head off on a journey to South America. She will then spend the next several years flying around the Southern Ocean before returning home to breed in the southern hemisphere’s only mainland albatross colony.

Hoani Langsbury, an ecologist and operations manager for the Otago Peninsula Trust, said: “If that was your own child and the first time they left they headed off was for several years around the world it would be pretty hard.”

The Department of Conservation (DOC) has been allowing viewers around the world to tune in to the chick’s development through a live YouTube channel that has had more than 1.6m views from 51 countries since December.

“[They] have watched this feisty chick around the clock as she’s been cared for by her devoted parents and grown from a round fluffball to a 9kg gangly adolescent,” said DOC biodiversity ranger Sharyn Broni.

Naming the chick is a rite of passage for the albatross, which will grow to have a wingspan of three metres.

“Celebrating connections” is the theme for this year’s naming, fitting for a chick that has entranced a record audience around the globe since hatching on 31 January.

Broni said viewers had been very engaged in the chick’s life. “The chick’s dad went missing for over a month and viewers were very worried. Luckily, he finally returned, slightly injured, to resume feeding the chick and viewers were overjoyed.”

The prize for the name chosen includes a personalised virtual tour of the albatross colony and a framed photo of the chick, avoiding any need for travel and opening it up to overseas fans.

People can learn more about the week-long Royal Cam competition and enter on its website. The competition closes on 2 August.