Wisdom the albatross

Wisdom incubates her egg at Midway Atoll; photo by ©Greg Joder

Midway Atoll, in the middle of the Pacific, is extremely remote but steeped in history.

It was the last link in a worldwide telegraph system that was launched with a message from President Theodore Roosevelt on July 4, 1903.

Midway was a landing site for Pan Am Clipper ships that ferried people across the Pacific. As a Naval Air Facility, it once supported more than 5,000 residents and, of course, the small coral atoll served as headquarters for the famous 1942 Battle of Midway, which turned the tide in the war against Japan.


Wisdom preens her mate; photo by Greg Joder

But these days, with a staff of about 40, Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is mostly associated with its remarkable wildlife, mainly its nesting sea birds, including the world's oldest-known banded wild bird: a Laysan albatross named Wisdom.

Wisdom, who is at least 63 years old and possibly much older, has astonished biologists yet again by returning to the atoll and laying yet another egg.

It's remarkable given that the average life span for a Laysan albatross is 12 to 40 years. These graceful soaring birds spend most of their time at sea and face many perils, including the ingestion of plastic they mistake for prey.

albatross chick

Wisdom with a chick hatched last year on Midway Atoll; photo by Dan Clark/USFWS

But Wisdom clearly is not a typical Laysan albatross. Every year it's a surprise merely that she has returned, and perhaps the same can be said of her younger mate (Laysan albatrosses mate for life).

This year Wisdom's mate arrived on Midway on November 19; Wisdom was first spotted on November 22. The laying of an egg was reported Wednesday in a blog post by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Pacific Region.

It states that Wisdom has raised between 30 and 35 chicks since being banded in 1956, when she was estimated to be 5 years old.


Wisdom’s Laysan albatross chick, born last year; photo by Dan Clark/USFWS

This marks the eighth consecutive year that Wisdom and her mate have successfully bred. Soon, it's hoped, a chick will hatch, officially making Wisdom a new mom—again.

Not that any of the other albatross will notice, however. Midway boasts 70 percent of the world's breeding Laysan albatrosses. The two islands that comprise the atoll are littered with birds during the fall-winter mating and incubating season.

Hatching season typically begins in mid-January, and fledging occurs from mid-June through July. That's also when the parents leave the nest, to spend the next several months foraging at sea.

Sounds like a lot to go through for an older bird such as Wisdom, but then what does a bird know about age?

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