KILAUEA — Wisdom isn’t the only Laysan albatross to return to her breeding grounds for the season, though she’s the oldest known breeding bird in the wild.
The 67-year-old albatross has laid an egg on Midway Atoll, and it will be the ninth chick she’s raised and fledged since 2006 with her mate, Akeakamai.
Akeakamai and Wisdom were spotted by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge staff near their nest in late November. An egg was confirmed on Dec. 13.
That is extremely important for albatrosses everywhere, according to Bob Peyton, USFWS project leader for Midway Atoll Refuge and Memorial.
“If you consider that albatross don’t always lay an egg each year and when they do they only raise one chick at a time, each egg is tremendously important to maintaining the survival of a colony,” Peyton said.
The Northwest Hawaiian Islands are home to 99 percent of the albatross population and the Laysan albatross is the largest populated of the three North Pacific albatrosses.
The total population was estimated at 2.5 million individuals in 1990, with about 400,000 breeding pairs on Midway Island.
Midway Atoll is home to the largest colony of albatross in the world with more than 70 percent of the world’s Laysan albatross population and 29 different species of birds breeding and raising chicks in the refuge.
Albatross face a laundry list of threats, including marine debris, invasive species, shrinking habitat and longline commercial fishing, according to USFWS.
On Kauai, the chattering, bobbing, dancing and pairing up has been ongoing. As of Dec. 15, activity at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge was heating up, with 161 nests established. Kim Uyehara, biologist for the refuge complex with USFWS, said that’s a 20 percent increase over the previous five-year average of 134 nests.
And while albatross are congregating at Kilauea Point, the birds can be seen all over the North Shore, sometimes even finding mates and building nests in residents’ yards.
Albatross often don’t start breeding until they are 8 or 9 years old, according to the Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project, and pairs bond during their first few breeding seasons. Bonding is usually in the form of a dance between two or three birds — and the dances are made up of 25 different moves.
“Females have returned or are returning from sea and switching incubation shifts with males,” Uyehara said. “Chicks will begin hatching in late January.”