Wisdom was first seen nesting in the same place 56 years ago. Photo by John Klavitter/USFWS
Wisdom's mate taking care of chick. Photo credit: Pete Leary/USFW
Chandler Robbins, who first tagged Wisdom at the Midway Atoll in 1956 and found her again in 2001. Photo Credit: Mark Hoffman.
Oldest known Laysan albatross hatches another chick
Wisdom, the amazing Laysan albatross that's been nesting each of the past 56 years in the same place on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, hatched another chick in early February and mom, dad and baby are all doing fine. Wisdom was first banded as a nesting adult in the same location behind Bravo Barracks in 1956 and she was estimated to be at least five years old at the time, making her at least 61 years old and the oldest Laysan albatross on record. Wisdom and her mate take their parenting seriously: they've been taking turns foraging and bringing food to their chick, with one of them staying with the chick at all times.
-- from US Fish and Wildlife Service, Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge (February 21, 2012)
The story in 2012, told by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, was inspiring in its own right. Wisdom the Albatross had hatched still another chick. She was at least 61 years old and had lived more than twice as long as the average individual in her species. Most thought she was too old. And for that matter she had survived a tsunami, avoided an untold number of predators, and countless environmental disasters. Wisdom was a survivor.
And then still another important ornithological event occurred the next year, in 2013, again at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the North Pacific Ocean. Wisdom and her mate successfully hatched another chick on Sunday morning, February 3.
Take a look at the photographs on the left offered by the US Fish and Wildlife service. In one of them Wisdom's mate takes care of his newly hatched chick just hours after it hatched, while Wisdom is at sea feeding. And in another she has returned with food and is taking her turn at rearing duties. Yes, they take their parenting seriously.
So where is all of this happening? And who are the parties involved? Who banded Wisdom in the first place? Let's back up. Martha Johnson explains:
Midway Atoll was important during World War II, with the American victory there marking the turning point in the war in the Pacific Theater of Operations, but the site is no longer being used for military purposes. On Oct. 31, 1996 the jurisdiction and control of Midway Atoll was transferred to the Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, as a National Wildlife Refuge and, as such, is open to the public.
Enter renowned ornithologist Chandler S. Robbins. Born July 17, 1918, he is credited with designing the North American Breeding Bird Survey, for early work on the effects of DDT on breeding bird populations, and for studies about birds and forest fragmentation. His book Birds of North America: A Guide to Field Identification written with Bertel Bruun and Herbert S. Zim and illustrated by Arthur Singer, was published in 1966. He joined the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1945 as a junior biologist. His field work took him to many geographic regions, including Midway Island.
On his first visit there in 1956 he banded 99 Laysan Albatrosses. One of the birds banded on Dec. 10, 1956 and presumed to be five years old (the minimum age for first breeding) was recaptured and banded a second time on Jan. 20, 1966, again on Feb. 18, 1985, on March 4, 1993, and in February 2002. Recaptured again on Dec. 6, 2006, the bird was given two new bands, one metal and one bright red, No. Z333. Deputy Refuge Manager John Klavitter named the bird Wisdom. She has been designated the “oldest known wild bird” at age 62 (or so).
The original bander, Chandler Robbins, now 95, is still associated as a Senior Scientist, Retired, with the Fish and Wildlife Service Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, MD. And he admires Wisdom, too. In 2012 he remarked: “While I have grown old and gray and get around only with the use of a cane, Wisdom still looks and acts just the same as on the day I banded her. . . .”
When we consider Wisdom today, some of us bring with us literary associations ranging from the historic “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge from early 19th century English literature to a remarkable children’s book published in 2012. The Coleridge work yields our present expression of “an albatross around one’s neck.” But it is in this poem that we also find the lines: “He prayeth best, who loveth best All things both great and small; For the dear God who loveth us, He made and loveth all. . .” known to many of us.
The children’s book, Wisdom, written by Darcy Pattison, tells the remarkable life story of Wisdom. Pattison notes along the way what can happen to birds and humans from hazards in the environment—those caused by natural disasters and those resulting from human negligence and lack of environmental concern. The author has Arkansas connections, among them being the 2007 recipient of the Individual Arts Award, from the Arkansas Governor’s Arts Awards, for work with children’s literature. The book is appealingly illustrated by Kitty Harvill, who lives in Arkansas when in the U. S. and also in Brazil where she is involved in conservation efforts. She specializes in wildlife art.