World’s Oldest Wild Bird Turns 70

Wisdom stretching her wings at her nest site

Entering her eighth known decade at Midway Atoll, Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and the oldest known banded wild bird has returned to her winter home at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial. This year, the first observation of Wisdom at her nest site took place on November 26 — only a day sooner than her arrival date last year…

Wisdom is Midway Atoll’s oldest known current resident, witnessing for seven decades the major events and transformations that have taken place on the atoll, and thriving while globally significant events were occurring around the world. She may have seen the first “Willy Victor” plane flights from Midway Atoll in the late 50’s, and witnessed Midway Atoll’s change from an active naval airfield to a refuge for wildlife. She’s lived through globally significant events, such as the first walk on the moon, the end of the Cold War and the designation of Papahānaumokuākea as a Marine National Monument.

Wisdom and her mate, Akeakamai, like most pairs of albatrosses, return nearly every year to the same nest site — a behavior known as nest site fidelity. Albatrosses lay one egg each nesting season and often take a year off from nesting. Most Laysan albatrosses return to Midway Atoll’s during November when mating begins; and most eggs are laid by early December. After about 65 days of incubation, eggs hatch in late January or early February…

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 first identified and banded Wisdom in 1956, but the very first albatross was banded on Midway Atoll in 1936…

I’ve known a few wildlife biologists in my lifetime. Happier at their work than most, I would say.

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