John Klavitter, USFWS biologist, has just confirmed the successful fledging of Wisdom's 2011 chick. Mother and offspring were in the news last spring when they survived tsunami waves that destroyed many other nesting birds on Midway Atoll within Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Successful fledging means Wisdom and her mate were able, once again, to find and return food to the nesting island where the chick was hatched early this year.
Wisdom, the oldest known wild bird on earth is a Laysan Albatross. She may well hold the key to success in an ocean filled with threats to survival of many kinds.I first learned about her amazing story when visiting Midway in 2009. Since then, FWS and NOAA staff have kept me in touch with Wisdom and other issues within the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, especially those on Midway's nesting grounds.
Wisdom was first banded by Chandler Robbins on 10 December 1956. He estimated she was at least five years old at that time. Since then, Wisdom has been rebanded several times, the last when she was "rediscovered" by USFWS volunteers and staff on 6 December 2006. She now wears stainless steel band number 1517-62900 on her left leg and a red plastic band Z333 on her right leg. These are the same kind bands worn by Fred and Friends in our project to help kids learn more about the ocean and how to protect species like the Laysan Albatross.
Chandler Robbins helped biologists relocate Wisdom after he had returned to Midway in 2002 to band more albatrosses and observe them up close in a setting where more than 800,000 Laysans sit at nests during the January to July on island season. The rest of the year, albatrosses soar across the ocean in amazing journeys that find individuals covering more than a million miles in a lifetime. Birds living as long as Wisdom might clock well over ten million miles or more.........who knows for sure?
When Robbins came back, he was so busy banding, he wasn't aware of the rebanding of Wisdom. But he later noted her presence in his log of band data and when USFWS staff caught up with him in 2006, they learned where he had snapped an identifier on her leg. Resilient, Wisdom was now wearing yet another piece of metal. A great gift to science, she was found in 2006 and fitted with her current Z333.
Laysan Albatross return to the exact location time and time again. They can find their chick by scent in an amazing search starting with a wing set soar as they approach the island...........They only move a nesting site when trouble lurks such as the invasion of obnoxious weeds. This happens on Midway because of a true pest, Verbesina. I can attest to its tenacity, having pulled many stems while on island in 2009. Thanks to the USFWS and wonderful volunteers, the plants are being removed and replaced with natives that don't hinder nesting success. Verbesina towers over the birds, clogging access to adults coming and going with food for their offspring.
As for Wisdom and her chick.............She has apparently found a way to seek food in the ocean where few pieces of plastic bob and bounce on waves. Or, she is extremely good at distinguishing squid and the eggs of flying fish from bottle caps, strands of rope, and other marine debris. Regardless, she has survived and continues to give birth to chicks that survive to fledge. I am about the same age as Wisdom and marvel at how she can continue..........Our daughter. One child. She is a happy and successful person and I can not for the life of me relate to giving life support for new children every year for more than fifty..............
Think on this. She and her mate flew off the island at Midway from January to July, more or less once a week. Each flight was about a thousand miles round trip. They caught food for themselves and their one chick. They shuffled flights, sometimes stopping on island for a single day, then off again...........Thousands of miles of flying to fetch food in the Bering Sea. Perch on the waves for a time, snatch a squid, shuffle off to Midway..............Feed baby. Fly again...........
After 60 years of life, one would think a bird known as Wisdom would wise up and call it a time for retirement.............It must be in her genes to be one who makes the difference in survival. As any student of ecology knows, it is all about passing along those genes. That and learning in a world of change.