Birds of Midway

Three albatross

In a rare moment on Midway Atoll's Sand Island, all three of the albatross species currently breeding in the North Pacific are photographed together. The Laysan (far left), black-footed and the endangered short-tailed albatross face windward.

  • Kaʻupu (Black-footed Albatross)

    Blackfooted small image

    The black-footed albatross has a keen sense of smell, which it uses to locate food across vast expanses of ocean. It drinks seawater and excretes excess salt through glands above the eyes. Midway Atoll is a safe nesting and resting site for the largest black-footed albatross nesting population in the world.

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  • Mōlī (Laysan Albatross)

    Goonie bird

    More than seventy percent of the world's nesting population of mōlī resides on Midway Atoll. The oldest known bird in the wild, affectionately known as Wisdom, is a Laysan albatross. She has become an international symbol of hope for species dependent upon the health of the ocean. She continues to nest and rear chicks along with her mate.

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  • Short-tailed Albatross

    Short tail small image

    Contrary to its name, its tail is no shorter than that of the Laysan or black-footed. The first short-tailed albatross was observed at Midway between 1936 and 1941. Since then, between one to three individuals has been observed every year.

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  • Brown Booby

    Brown booby small image

    The brown booby feeds by flying over the ocean looking for schools of fish, and then diving like a dart, with its wings streamlined against its body. 

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  • Masked Booby

    Masked booby small image

    Although the masked booby regularly lays two eggs, it never raises two young. The first egg is laid four to nine days before the second, and the older chick always ejects the second from the nest. 

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  • Red-footed Booby

    Red-footed booby and chick

    Red-footed boobies are well adapted for diving and feature long bills, lean and aerodynamic bodies, closeable nostrils, and long wings which they wrap around their bodies before entering the water.  They use these attributes to plunge-dive and capture fish that they spot from above with their sharp eyes.  

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  • Bristle-thighed Curlew


    This migratory bird is unique among shorebirds because it becomes flightless during their autumnal molt. Unfortunately, because these birds winter on islands throughout the south Pacific Ocean, they experience heavy predation by domestic cats and dogs as well as pigs while molting/flightless. On Midway these threats are absent.

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  • Laysan Duck

    Laysan duck small image

    The endangered Laysan duck is considered the rarest native waterfowl in the United States. They once were widespread across the Hawaiian Islands, but by 1860, they ceased to exist anywhere except Laysan Island, part of the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge. In 2004 a small population was translocated to Midway Atoll to establish a second population of the species. Their numbers have been increasing.

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  • Great Frigatebird

    Great frigatebird small image

    Perhaps the most striking feature of frigatebirds is the male's red throat pouch, which the male inflates into a large red balloon during courtship displays.  

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  • Black Noddy

    Black noddy small image

    The black noddy typically remains within 50 miles of its breeding colonies year-round. Courtship consists of head nodding and fish transfers.

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  • Brown Noddy

    Brown noddy small image

    The brown noddy is the largest member of the noddy family; they weigh twice as much as black noddies. Chicks reach adult weight in 18 days. Most chicks outweigh parents in six weeks.

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  • Bonin Petrel

    Bonin Petrel Flying

    The Bonin petrel is a seabird that lives in the waters of the north west Pacific and nests on islands south of Japan and in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. 

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  • Pacific Golden Plover

    PG plover

    This migratory shorebird breeds in western Alaska and Siberia and winters on islands across the Pacific Ocean, through southeast Asia, to northeastern Africa. It is uncommon in North America, found breeding in Alaska, and migrating and wintering in small numbers along the Pacific Coast. 

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  • Christmas Shearwater

    Christmas Shearwater small image

    As in other shearwaters, the legs of the Christmas shearwater are set far back on its body and it moves with an awkward, waddling gait on land, often shuffling along on its breast. When airborne, the Christmas shearwater appears much more elegant, typically flying with fast, stiff wing beats followed by long buoyant glides, close to the surface of water. 

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  • Wedge-tailed Shearwater

    wedgie small

    The wedge-tailed shearwater emits an eerie, wailing call from its burrow during the night, comprising of an inhaling component, ‘OOO’, and an exhaling component ‘errr’. This ghost-like sound gives rise to the Hawaiian name for this species, ‘ua’u kani’, which means ‘calling or moaning petrel’.

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  • Gray-backed Tern

    Gray-backed tern small

    Gray-backed terns breed on remote islands and atolls. Nests are constructed in a variety of habitats (e.g., rocky ledges, open, sandy beaches) but usually at the base of shrubs or refuse. Nests are typically shallow depressions in sand or gravel.

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  • Least Tern

    Least Tern

    The least tern's name reflects its diminutive size. It may be seen assertively defending its nest by diving at intruders, calling shrilly while flying low over the water, or hovering above before plunging in to catch tiny prey. 

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  • Little Tern

    Little tern

    When breeding, the little tern's bill is yellow, the crown is black with a short, pointed white brow and the black eye-line reaches the bill. 

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  • Sooty Tern

    sooty tern small

    Sooty terns nest in large, dense colonies consisting of thousands to a million pairs of terns. Individuals return to natal colony to breed, some long-term pair bonds have been documented, and breeders prefer to return to previous nest locations. Nests are shallow scrapes often lined with bits of shell or vegetation. 

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  • White Tern

    White tern small image

    The white tern is famous for laying its egg on a rock, a rock ledge, or a bare branch rather than in a nest. An egg laid in an exposed and precarious place results in a chick that must cling to the perch.

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  • Red-tailed Tropicbird

    Red-tailed tropicbird small

    The red-tailed tropicbird is a showy, white seabird related to boobies and frigatebirds. Adult males and females are mostly white, except for partial black eye ring and short eye line, black flanks, and black shafts of outer primaries; both sexes have long, narrow, tail feathers with red shafts.  

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  • White-tailed Tropicbird

    White-tailed tropicbird

    The white-tailed tropicbird is able to sustain long periods of flight. In the air these birds exploit their long wingspan and streamlined body shape to attain impressive altitudes by soaring upwards on rising thermals. While resting at sea, they float on the sea surface, due to their fully waterproof plumage, and will take to the air again after powerful beats of the wings and thrusts of the fully-webbed feet. 

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  • Ruddy Turnstone


    This migratory shorebird is a swift, strong flyer that travels in small flocks and covers long distances in a short amount of time – birds that departed St. George Island in the Pribilofs, Alaska, traveled to French Frigate Shoals in the Hawaiian Archipelago (a distance of 2,259 miles) in 3.5 days.

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