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World’s oldest known, banded wild bird returns to nest at Midway Atoll

  • COURTESY BOB PEYTON/USFWS / 2019
                                Wisdom’s mate Akeakamai with their chick.

    COURTESY BOB PEYTON/USFWS / 2019

    Wisdom’s mate Akeakamai with their chick.

  • COURTESY JON BRACK/FRIENDS OF MIDWAY ATOLL NWR
                                Wisdom, the world’s oldest known, banded wild bird has returned to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge with her mate. They are taking turns incubating their egg.

    COURTESY JON BRACK/FRIENDS OF MIDWAY ATOLL NWR

    Wisdom, the world’s oldest known, banded wild bird has returned to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge with her mate. They are taking turns incubating their egg.

She’s back.

Wisdom the Laysan albatross has returned to her nest site at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial to become a mother once again, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The world’s oldest known, banded wild bird is at least 69 years old, and has hatched more than 35 chicks in her lifetime. Apparently, she’s ready to do it again.

She was first spotted at her nest site at Midway on Nov. 29, officials said, and has laid an egg that she and her mate, Akeakamai, are taking turns incubating. If successful, the chick would hatch early next year.

“Every year that Wisdom returns, she is rewriting what we know about albatross longevity – and inspiring the next generation,” said USFWS Monument Superintendent Jared Underwood in a news release. “Wisdom helps us better understand how long these birds live and how often they breed. This knowledge informs our management actions to ensure a future for albatrosses that rely on the Refuge and Monument.”

Millions of albatrosses return annually to Midway Atoll at Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument around this time of year to nest and raise their young.

The Laysan, or moli, are considered the kinolau (body form) of Lono, Hawaiian god of agriculture and fertility, because the birds’ return to land for mating between October and November coincides with the beginning of the makahiki season.

Wisdom and Akeakamai, like most albatross pairs, return nearly every year to the same nest site, a behavior known as “nest site fidelity.” They have returned to Midway to lay and hatch an egg almost every year since 2006. Their last chick was born at Midway in February of last year.

Given her longevity, biologists say Wisdom is likely surrounded by several generations of her brethren when she returns to Midway.

Parents typically spend seven months on the atoll, taking turns incubating the egg or caring for the chick. One will assume parental duties while the other flies across the ocean in search of food. Given the toiling process, most do not lay an egg every year, but every other year.

Midway provides a place to rest and nest for roughly 70% of the world’s Laysan albatrosses and 40% of black-footed albatrosses, along with endangered short-tailed albatrosses and 20 other bird species.

Officials said scientific research throughout the Monument plays an essential role in managing wildlife, and that ongoing surveys and banding projects of seabirds help scientists better understand their life cycles and migration patterns.

Since 1936, over 275,000 albatrosses have been banded at Midway Atoll. Wisdom was first banded as an adult in 1956 by biologist Chandler Robbins, who was studying the colony at Midway.

Wisdom’s longevity has become an inspiration and beacon of hope for seabird lovers around the world.

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