Oldest Known Wild Bird Survives Tsunami

By Laura Erickson
April 15, 2011
Wisdom, the oldest known wild bird on earth, survives the tsunami. Photo by Pete Leary/USFWS Wisdom, the oldest known wild bird on earth, survives the tsunami. Photo by Pete Leary/USFWS.
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Six decades ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) initiated a long-term research project on Midway Island. One Laysan Albatross banded 55 years ago is still providing data today.

“Wisdom” was banded in 1956 by Chandler Robbins near her nest. Laysan Albatrosses don’t begin breeding until they’re at least 5 (and more often 8 or 9) years old. When she was seen with a chick in February 2011, it made headlines.

“She looks great,” said Bruce Peterjohn, head of the North American Bird Banding Program. “And she is now the oldest wild bird documented in the 90-year history of our USGS-FWS and Canadian bird-banding program. To know that she can still successfully raise young at age 60-plus, that is beyond words.”

The devastating March 10 earthquake and tsunami off Japan had repercussions at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. On March 23, the U.S. Geological Survey reported, “There were tremendous losses of Laysan and Black-footed albatrosses at the refuge—an estimated 110,000 chicks and 2,000 adults.” Wisdom and her chick, on high ground, survived. Barry Stieglitz, project leader for the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, said, “Although wildlife biologists generally manage at the level of populations, we, too, become entwined in the fates of individual animals. Wisdom is one such special creature.”

Originally published in the Spring 2011 issue of BirdScope.

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