Wisdom – America’s Oldest Wild Bird Survived Tsunami That Hit Midway Atoll

The devistating earthquake that hit Japan also spread across the Pacific, wrecking havoc on the small flat islands of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. A few weeks ago we brought you the story of Wisdom, the oldest known wild bird in the US, a Laysan albatross raising her newest chick on Midway Island.

The tsunami sent a 5 foot tidal wave crashing over Midway Islands which devastated the islands, particularly thousands of chicks in their nests on the beach. The chicks were too young to fly away to safety and wound up trapped in debris onshore or floating on debris mats out on the water.

Fish and wildlife staff members stationed on the island did whatever they could to save as many birds as possible. But there is a glimmer of hope in the darkness The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced this week that

“In the face of tremendous losses of Laysan and black-footed albatross at the Refuge — including an estimated 110,000 chicks and 2,000 adults — to the tsunami that overwashed portions of the Refuge, biologists are thrilled to discover that Wisdom survived, said Barry Stieglitz, Project Leader for the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex.”

Wisdom, as The Associated Press has previously reported, is at least 60 years old. The wire service says that “a U.S. Geological Survey scientist first banded the seabird as she incubated an egg in 1956. She was estimated to be at least 5 years old at the time.” Wisdom has raised at least 30 chicks. No other bird that has been banded by U.S. or Canadian wildlife agencies is older — hence her claim to fame.
The “average life span” of a Laysan albatross is 12 to 40 years, the Midway Atoll refuge says. The World Wildlife Federation says albatrosses can live “up to 60 years,” which means Wisdom is a rarity.

No word yet on the fate of Wisdom’s chick. As the chick was not banded, we may never know what happened to it, but we certainly hope it survived and is being cared for.

To see more pictures and learn more about what happened to the birds on Midway, check out this blog by Fish and Wildlife staff members that are stationed there:

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