Wisdom the Albatross

Wisdom and Chick 500x250

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. She is at least 69-years old and a world renowned symbol of hope for all species that depend upon the health of the ocean to survive. 

Who is Wisdom

Wisdom and Akeakamai 

The Colony on Midway 

Raising the Next Generation

Learn more about the threats facing Wisdom

Archive of Wisdom News

Where can you see albatross in Hawai'i?

Photos and Videos of Wisdom (External Flickr Album)

Wildlife on Midway Atoll

The Real Battle of Midway

Who is Wisdom

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. She is at least 69-years old and a world renowned symbol of hope for all species that depend upon the health of the ocean to survive. 

The story of a Laysan albatross named Wisdom began to unfold in 2002 when bird biologist Chandler Robbins attempted to replace a numbered band on Widsom's leg. The band was part of a study of albatross population and life cycle. The U.S. bird banding program has a meticulous tracking process, and they were able to determine that Wisdom had first been banded on Midway, December 10, 1956. The data sheet indicated Chandler Robbins (40 years-old at the time) gave Wisdom her first band in 1956. When Robbins returned to Midway in 2002 he had re-sighted the same bird he banded 46 years earlier!

Prior to Wisdom, most biologists believed that Laysan albatross generally lived to be 30 - 40 years old. 

Wisdom and Akeakamai

Wisdom's has a long term mate named Akeakamai. They have been together since at least 2010, and potentially much longer. However it is likely that Wisdom has had more than one partner during her life. Albatross pair bonds are incredibly important for raising young. The relationship takes years to form, and can last for decades. 

To find a mate, juvenile albatrosses do what humans have been doing for thousands of years, they have dance parties. Groups of young albatross gather on Midway every winter and in groups of twos and threes they practice courtship dances. They will spend several years learning the elaborate dances until they eventually find a mate. Laysan courtship dances can have dozens of ritualized movements that are distinct from other species of albatrosses. 

They are looking for just that special bird to dip, bow, and preen with, and once a pair bond forms they stay bonded for life. It will take a pair bond another three or four years before they can successfully hatch their first chick.The incredible about of time and work necessary for albatrosses to survive to adulthood, find a mate, and become a successful parent means that each adult pair bond is incredibly important to the overall survival of the colony. 

The Colony on Midway

Every year, sometime in late October, a single albatross will crash into the beach on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. It will be the first of many. Over the next days and weeks after that first albatross arrives, the birds will come by ones and twos, then dozens, thousands, and eventually over one million Laysan Albatross will find their way back to these tiny pinpricks of land - less than 2 and a half square miles - in the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. By November the Laysans will have taken over the tiny island. Every square foot of land is occupied by a bird, and the air is full of the sound and the smell of them. 

With life spans that rival many humans, the albatross life cycle mimics our own in many ways. Their longevity can actually be a challenge for the biologists who study them. The life span of a single bird can be two or three times that of the career of a researcher. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that Laysan Albatross spend 90% of their lives in the air and on the sea crisscrossing the North Pacific Ocean. Most of what we can observe of their lives takes place in that narrow 10% of time that happens when the birds come to one of a few colonies in the Pacific to find a mate and fledge their chicks.

Raising the Next Generation

Once two albatross form a pair bond, they come back to their home colony nearly every year to mate and fledge a chick. The nesting process taxes and tests the limits of the pair’s endurance and health. When the egg is laid, one of the parents will stay with it at all times through the two month incubation period and for the first weeks the chick’s life. 

The female usually stays for a couple of days after laying the egg, then takes off to forage and regain her strength. Once she leaves, the male will sit on the egg for as long as three weeks at a time. Laysan albatross forage over expanses of open ocean that boggle the mind. They have been tracked foraging across an area over 4 million square miles in a single trip. That’s greater that the size of the continental United States!

All that waiting requires albatross to be incredibly patient and dedicated parents. Birds have been known to die from starvation and have even been eaten alive by predators while sitting on their egg waiting for their mate to return. For now, Laysan albatross have a safe and protected place to nest and fledge their chicks, and the overall population remains healthy and strong. But biologists worry about the future of a species that has become so reliant on a handful of tiny low-lying islands for their survival. What happens if Midway is lost to changing climates or invasive predators? 

Biologists are working to establish new colonies of albatross on other Pacific islands as a hedge against rising sea levels, disease, or invasive predators because protecting the future for the Laysan mean protecting the places they call home. 

Birds have been known to die from starvation or predation waiting on their nest for their partner to return. Midway Atoll has become the most important albatross colony in the world because of its size, safety, and the lack of continued human development.

Learn more about the threats facing Wisdom

Invasive Mice

Since 2015, the albatross colony has faced a new threat. Invasive house mice have begun attacking adult albatross sitting on their nests, leading to injury and death. Albatrosses are tenacious incubators. It is incredibly difficult to get an albatross to leave their egg, and they will sit through weeks of hunger and thirst to protect it. 

Their lack of defense mechanism and complete dedication to their eggs have left albatrosses defenseless against the threat of predation. Their slow reproductive cycle means that losses to the colony this year will continue to impact the population for decades to come. The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to protecting and conserving the seabird colony on Midway Atoll and finding solutions to this growing crisis. Learn more

Marine Debris

Every year, hundreds of thousands of pounds of trash wash up on the shores of the Hawaiian Islands and remote atolls in the Pacific Ocean. Trash entering the ocean from Asia and the West Coast of America gets caught up in great swirling currents called gyres and collect in areas popularly known as “garbage patches.”The Hawaiian Islands and Pacific atolls stretch across the gyre like a comb, collecting trash on their pristine beaches and delicate coral reefs.

The mountains of debris that wash up on these shores and reefs every day pose a lethal hazard for wildlife — including threatened Hawaiian green sea turtles and endangered Hawaiian monk seals. Adult seabirds ingest plastic debris and fishing line and then feed the debris to their chicks. Critically endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals — naturally curious — get entangled and trapped in abandoned netting. At Midway and Kure Atoll, plastics, fishing gear and other marine debris can be found lining the nests of albatross chicks.

Each year staff and volunteers from U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of Hawaii, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration collect tens of thousands of pounds of marine debris from beaches and reefs of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Crews of researchers and support staff scour the beaches for trash, dive along the reefs to remove snagged fishing line, and rescue wildlife who’ve become trapped and entangled.

Where to see Albatross

On O'ahu: James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge, Ka'ena Point State Park

On Kauai: Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge

Archive of Wisdom News

2018 - 2019

Wisdom a mother again; endangered short-tailed albatross welcome first chick!

World’s Oldest Known, Banded Wild Bird Returns to Midway Atoll in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

2017 - 2018

At 67, Wisdom is a mother once again!

Wisdom is Back!

2016 - 2017

Wisdom, the Laysan albatross and world’s oldest known breeding bird, hatched another chick!

Wisdom the Laysan Albatross One of the Hardest Working Moms in the Pacific Ocean

2015 - 2016

Wisdom Returns to Papahānaumokuākea

Wisdom hatches a healthy chick at 65+ years old at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

2013 - 2014

At 63 Years Old, Wisdom Hatches Another Chick

The First Family Photo: Wisdom and her newest chick!

2012-2013

Wisdom Does it Again: World's Oldest Bird Hatches Another Chick

World's oldest known wild bird hatches another chick

2011 - 2012

World's Oldest Laysan Albatross is Back!

She Flies On . . . and On . . . and On