albatross

The oldest known wild bird in the world is a parent again. Wisdom, a Mōlī (Laysan Albatross), had returned to their nesting site on Midway Atoll with her buddy Akeakamai in November. Wisdom soon laid an egg and in late January it began to hatch. The chick showed up on Monday February 1st.

Wisdom is around 70 years old. She was banded as an adult in 1956 when she was at least five years old. The late ornithologist Chandler Robbins added her first volume. Not only have innumerable news articles been written about wisdom, but it also has its own Wikipedia page.

Wisdom (right) and her buddy Akeakamai (left), who were seen in 2015, take turns incubating and protecting their egg. Male and female pairs of Laysan albatrosses tend to their eggs in approximately 48-hour shifts. Both share the responsibility of feeding and raising their chicks after they hatch. Photo by Dan Clark / USFWS

Biologists estimate that Wisdom has hatched at least 30 to 36 chicks in their lifetime. In 2018, biologists observed the chick that they had fled just a few meters from their current nest in 2011. Countless generations of albatrosses on Midway Atoll have a similar family gathering every year.

Every year, millions of albatrosses return to the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and the Battle of Midway National Memorial. From October the birds return to the same nesting site and unite with their partner in the world’s largest colony of albatrosses. Wisdom and her pal Akeakamai have hatched and raised chicks together since at least 2012, when biologists first brought Akeakamai together.

Records, maintained by the US Geological Survey’s (USGS) Bird Banding Laboratory, help scientists track individual birds like Wisdom and Akeakamai throughout their lives.

Scientists can track birds by attaching aluminum and / or colored ribbons with identification numbers to a bird’s legs. By pursuing the wisdom, scientists have learned that these seabirds live long lives and can nest successfully for decades.

The chick of wisdom pees its shell. Pipping is when a young bird begins to crack the eggshell while hatching. The father Akeakamai is standing over the egg. Photo by Jon Brack / Friends of the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

The first albatross was banded on Midway Atoll in 1936. To date, over 275,000 albatrosses have been banded in the refuge. By combining modern data analysis with detailed current and historical records, biologists can make more informed management decisions to ensure that seabirds have the habitat and resources they will need in the future.

“Every year when Wisdom returns, we learn more about how long seabirds can live and raise chicks,” said Beth Flint, a biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. “Their return not only inspires bird lovers everywhere, but also helps us better understand how to protect these graceful seabirds and the habitat they will need to survive in the future.”

USGS employees maintain an archive of more than 77 million banding records and more than 5 million encounter reports for over a thousand bird species in North America and Trust Areas. Information gathered through bird watching helps make important management and conservation decisions.

Learn more about the USGS lab, which is 100 years old.

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