Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, contests and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Wisdom, world’s oldest known, banded wild bird, returns to Midway Atoll

Wisdom sits on her nest, November 2020. Photo by Jon Brack/Friends of Midway Atoll NWR

She’s back!

Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan Albatross) and the world’s oldest known, banded wild bird has returned to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial. The bird was banded in 1956 and is at least 69 years old. Wisdom was first spotted at her nest site on Sunday, November 29. Biologists have confirmed that she has laid an egg. Wisdom and her mate are taking turns incubating the egg.

Each year millions of albatrosses return to Midway Atoll in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument to nest and raise their young.

“Every year that Wisdom returns, she is rewriting what we know about albatross longevity – and inspiring the next generation,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Monument Superintendent Jared Underwood. “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.”

Wisdom and her mate, Akeakamai, like most pairs of albatrosses, return nearly every year to the same nest site. This behavior is known as “nest site fidelity” and it makes places with large colonies of nesting birds, like Midway Atoll, critically important for the future survival of seabirds like Wisdom.

Mōlī family reunion

Raising the next generation of albatross is no easy job. Albatross parents take turns incubating the egg or caring for the chick while the other forages for food at sea. They will spend approximately seven months on Midway Atoll incubating and raising their chick. Because this process takes up so much time and energy, most mōlī don’t lay an egg every year.

However, Wisdom and her mate have met on Midway Atoll to lay and hatch an egg almost every year since 2006. Wisdom has laid between 30-36 eggs in her lifetime. In 2017, the chick that she fledged in 2001 was observed just a few feet away from her current nest, marking the first time a returning chick of hers has been documented. Countless generations of albatrosses on Midway Atoll have a similar family reunion each year.

Starting around age five, juvenile albatrosses begin the process of finding a mate. During nesting season, they are all over Midway Atoll practicing elaborate courtship dances containing dozens of ritualized movements. These young birds are looking for that special bird to dip, bow, and preen with, and once a pair bond forms, they stay bonded for life.

“Albatrosses lay one egg at a time and often take a year off between laying eggs, so the contribution of just one bird makes a difference,” said acting Midway Atoll Refuge Manager Keely Lopez. “It’s wonderful to think how much Wisdom, and other albatrosses like her, has contributed to the survival of her species.”

Nearly 70% of the world’s mōlī and almost 40% of kaʻupu (black-footed albatross), as well as endangered makalena (short-tailed albatross) all rely on Midway Atoll. In addition to albatrosses, over 20 different bird species live on Midway Atoll. In total, over three million individual birds call the Refuge and Memorial home.

Banding began in 1936

Throughout the Monument, scientific research and monitoring plays an essential role in managing wildlife, including seabirds. Surveys and banding projects conducted in the Monument and throughout the world help scientists better understand the life cycles and migration patterns of birds. Biologists began banding albatrosses on Midway Atoll in 1936. To date over 275,000 albatrosses have been banded at the Refuge and Memorial. By pairing modern data analysis with detailed current and historical records, biologists can make more informed management decisions that ensure seabirds have the habitat and resources they need in the future.

Biologists and volunteers are working to restore the habitat seabirds need at Midway Atoll and remove threats like invasive predators — because protecting the future for seabirds mean protecting the places they call home.

Thanks to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for providing this news.

Albatrosses now lead-free on Midway

A visit to Pihemanu

What Papahanaumokuakea means for birds Originally Published

Read our newsletter!

Sign up for our free e-newsletter to receive news, photos of birds, attracting and ID tips, and more delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up for Free