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Wisdom returns to Midway

  • Bob Peyton, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Special to The Garden Island

    Wisdom’s mate Akeakamai guards their newest chick at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

  • William Kennerley, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Special to The Garden Island

    Wisdom, the oldest known banded bird in the wild, is a female Laysan albatross that nests within the world’s largest albatross colony on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

  • Madalyn Riley, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service volunteer / Special to The Garden Island

    Wisdom incubates her egg in December 2018 on Midway.

MIDWAY — Wisdom, the world’s oldest known banded, wild bird, has returned to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial.

This female Laysan albatross is now at least 69 years old and has hatched more than 35 chicks over the course of her life. Like the rest of the Laysan albatrosses, she returns to land — usually to where she was born — sometime around October or November to build a nest and raise the next generation of albatross. When she’s not on land for the breeding and nesting season, she’s out to sea.

Wisdom was first sighted upon her return to her nest site lst week.

Her mate, Akeakamai, has not yet arrived for the season, but she is not alone. Midway Atoll is located in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, a globally important habitat for seabirds.

The atoll is home to 73% of all Laysan albatross in the world. Each year in late October, more than a million albatross return to Midway from the sea, and by the end of November nearly every available patch of land is claimed by a breeding pair.

Wisdom and Akeakamai return almost every year to the exact same nest site — a practice known as “nest fidelity” — located in the midst of many other nesting birds.

“Midway Atoll’s habitat doesn’t just support millions of birds, it supports countless generations and families of albatrosses,” said Kelly Goodale, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge biologist.

“If you can imagine, when Wisdom returns home she is likely surrounded by what were once her chicks and potentially their chicks. What a family reunion,: she said.

Albatross parents like Wisdom and Akeakamai take turns incubating the egg and caring for the chick. They will spend about seven months on Midway Atoll incubating and raising their chick.

When not on parenting duty, Wisdom and Akeakamai take turns flying thousands of miles across the ocean in search of food. Laysan albatross fly up to 50,000 miles a year as adults. That means Wisdom has flown about 3.5 million miles in her life, or seven round-trips to the moon, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“For millions of years, the Northwest Hawaiian Islands have been a safe refuge for albatross like Wisdom, as well as countless other migratory birds, endangered monk seals and green sea turtles,” said Acting Refuge Manager Stephen Barclay.

“Our job is to ensure that this refuge out here in the middle of the ocean remains a safe place for the wildlife that call it home.”

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Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or jelse@thegardenisland.com.

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