Category Archives: Albatross

Birds made the headlines around the world last year with some important stories

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Photo by Bob Peyton/USFWS • At 67, Wisdom, a female Laysan albatross and the world’s oldest known breeding bird in the wild, is a mother once more! On Feb. 6, 2018, approximately two months after Wisdom began incubating her egg, Wisdom and her mate, Akeakamai, welcomed their newest chick to the nesting colony at Midway Atoll. In this photo, Wisdom is pictured with her most her recent chick.

In these early days of 2019, I thought it might be a good time to look back at some of the top bird-related stories of 2018. Here are my Top Five picks:

Mother of Mothers
Wisdom the albatross nested again at age 67. Wisdom, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service website, is the oldest known banded bird in the wild. She is a female Laysan albatross that nests within the world’s largest albatross colony on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. She is at least 67 years old and a world-renowned symbol of hope for all species that depend upon the health of the ocean to survive.
Famed ornithology expert Chandler Robbins banded Wisdom on Dec. 10, 1956. Forty-six years later, he banded her again.
Albatrosses and other seabirds return to the same nesting site each year. Wisdom has been using the same nesting site on Midway Atoll since she was first banded. Albatrosses lay a single egg and incubate it for a little over two months. After a chick hatches, it will still be another five months before it will leave the nest. In that time, Wisdom and her mate, Akeakamai, like all albatross parents, take turns incubating the egg or caring for the chick while the other forages for food at sea.
“Midway Atoll’s habitat doesn’t just contain millions of birds, it contains countless generations and families of albatrosses,” said Kelly Goodale, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge Biologist, in a press release. “If you can imagine when Wisdom returns home, she is likely surrounded by what were once her chicks and potentially their chicks. What a family reunion!”
Wisdom’s also a real survivor. For instance, she survived, along with her chick, the earthquake and tsunami that killed many Laysan and black-footed albatrosses on Midway Atoll in 2011.

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Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service • Wisdom feeds a chick from a previous nesting.

New Discoveries
New birds continue to be discovered around the world. For example, a research team has described an unusual new songbird species. The bird was named the Rote leaf-warbler (Phylloscopus rotiensis) after the island where it is found.
This new species of leaf-warbler, which has an unusually long bill, was first discovered on Rote Island, Indonesia.
Each year, about five to 10 new bird species are described worldwide. The fact that this bird is the second novel species described from Rota last year is also noteworthy. The other species — the Rote myzomela (Myzomela irianawidodoae) is a species of Indonesian honeyeater endemic to the island of Rote. Although first noticed years ago, scientists only confirmed this past year the the bird is actually a distinct species.
On this one small island in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana islands live two other birds found nowhere else in the world: the Mariana crow and the Rota white-eye. These birds are testimony to both the resilience and fragility of the world’s birds.
Mixed Heritage
In an example of the fluidity of some species of birds, experts have confirmed a rare three-species hybrid with DNA from three different New World warbler species. As the warblers are my favorite family of birds, I found this a fascinating story.
The bird found in Pennsylvania was the offspring of a hybrid warbler mother and a warbler father from an entirely different genus. This is a combination never recorded before now, which resulted in a three-species hybrid bird. The bird is the offspring of a female hybrid between a blue-winged warbler and a golden-winged warbler. Its father was a chestnut-sided warbler, which is not considered a close relative of the other two warblers

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Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service • Endangered California condors receives some good news in 2018.

Condors Soar Again
California condors continue to climb back from the brink of extinction. For the first time in more than three decades, an endangered California condor chick successfully fledged from a cliff-side nest in Santa Barbara County in California in November of 2018. Condor number 933 took its first short flight after being raised by its parents for six months in the northern Santa Barbara backcountry of Los Padres National Forest. This chick represents another milestone in the condor recovery program: the first second-generation wild fledgling in Southern California. Its father fledged from the Santa Barbara backcountry in 1980.
The chick known as Condor 933 hatched in late April and was raised by six-year-old female condor 654 and 38-year-old male condor 20, more popularly known as AC-4.
Official USFWS statistics from December 2016 recorded an overall population of 446 condors, of which 276 are wild and 170 are captive. A key milestone was reached in 2015, when more condors were born in the wild than died.
The goal of the California Condor Recovery Plan is to establish two geographically distinct self-sustaining populations, each with 150 birds in the wild and at least 15 breeding pairs, with a third population of condors retained in captivity. As the Recovery Program works toward this goal, the number of release sites has grown. There are three active release sites in California, one in Arizona and one in Baja, Mexico.

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Photo by Noah Kahn/USFWS • The endangered ‘Apapane evolved in the forests of Hawaii and is found nowhere else in the world. This bird was banded and released back to the forest. Apapane are one of the most common native birds in Hawaiian forests. Their feathers were used to some extent in Hawaiian feather work. Another Hawaiian species, the poʻo-uli, was officially declared extinct in 2018.

Slipping Away
Despite the success stories, birds are getting hit hard in the age of extinction sweeping our planet. Some of this year’s extinction casualties included a diminutive Hawaiian species known as the , as well as the Brazilian birds known as the cryptic treehunter and the Alagoas foliage-gleaner. Spix’s macaw — a parrot species made famous by Disney’s animated feature film Rio — is now extinct in the wild, although about 50 individuals survive in captivity. The announcement about the macaw was a formality. Scientists have suspected the species is extinct in the wild since 2011 when the last known female Spix’s macaw perished. The announcement in September of 2018 served as a mere formality. Unfortunately, things will probably only get worse for many bird species in the short-term future. We must never begrudge the resources needed to keep them all flying free.

At age 65, Wisdom is a mother yet again

For about a decade, I have been following the story of one of nature’s oldest mother birds. I’ll share it with you for my Easter 2016 post.

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Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service                      Wisdom is shown with a chick born in 2011. Mother and chick survived a powerful tsunami that claimed the lives of other albatrosses, both adults and chicks.

The oldest known breeding bird in the wild, a Laysan albatross named Wisdom – she’s at least 65 years old – became a mother again last month. Wisdom lives with her mate, Akeakamai, at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, part of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

The chick was observed still coming out of its shell on February 1, 2016, and days later was named Kukini, which is a Hawaiian word for messenger. Wisdom’s mate had been on the nest since Jan. 20 when he took over incubation duties while Wisdom headed out to sea. Wisdom returned just as the Super Bowl ended with her belly full. Shortly after Wisdom’s return, Wisdom’s mate was on the march towards the shoreline and immediately took flight in search of food.

“Wisdom is an iconic symbol of inspiration and hope,” noted Refuge Manager Robert Peyton in a press release on the subject of the hatching of Wisdom’s latest chick.

Peyton explained that from a scientific perspective, albatrosses are a critical indicator species for the world’s oceans that sustain millions of human beings as well. In the case of Wisdom, she is breaking longevity records of previously banded birds by at least a decade.

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Photo by David Patte/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service       Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is home to the largest colony of albatrosses in the world.

“With over a million albatrosses on Midway Atoll alone, this shows just how much is left to learn about the natural world around us,” Peyton said.

The story of this amazing bird is even more astonishing given her maternal success. Wisdom has raised at least eight chicks since 2006, and as many as 40 in her lifetime. Just as astounding, she has likely flown over three million miles since she was first tagged on Midway Atoll in 1956.

To put things in perspective, consider this statement by Bruce Peterjohn, Chief of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center’s National Bird Banding Laboratory.

“That is up to six trips from the Earth to the Moon and back again,” he noted “What is also miraculous is that biologist Chandler Robbins, who banded her as a breeding adult in 1956 on Midway Atoll, sighted her 46 years later near the same nesting location.” Today, at the age of 97, Robbins still comes to work on occasion doing what he loves to do.

Wisdom’s chick is not the only bird in town. Albatrosses arrive on Midway Atoll in late November by the hundreds of thousands. In December U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service volunteers counted 470,000 active nests across the entire atoll – since each nest represents two adults, the total breeding population at Midway is 940,000. A low estimate of Midway’s overall population, this number doesn’t account for the non-breeders present in the colony, resting, searching for a mate, and practicing their mating dance skills.

Wisdom has nested since the late 1950s on Midway’s Eastern Island behind Bravo Barracks. She was banded as a nesting adult in the same location by Robbins in December 1956. Robbins estimated that she was a minimum of five years old at the time. Another albatross — a Northern Royal Albatross that lived on the South Island of New Zealand and was named “Grandma” — reached a banded age of 51.5 years and probable actual age of 61 years or more. Wisdom and her mate have successfully fledged a chick annually in recent years. She is the world’s oldest Laysan albatross. If human, she would be approaching senior citizen status today.

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Photo by Pete Leary/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service                         Both adults and chicks got stuck in debris and had to be rescued in the wake of the huge tsunami that washed over the island back in 2011.

Wisdom, as well as her chick, survived the same tsunami that laid waste to much of Japan on March 10, 2011. FWS released an official announcement five days after the natural catastrophe stating that surveys of the three islands revealed that more than 110,000 albatross chicks – about 22 percent of that year’s albatross production – were lost as a result of the tsunami and two severe winter storms that hit in January and February. At least 2,000 adults also died.

Even through such setbacks, Wisdom has thrived. She is one very special creature. FWS personnel who have worked on these islands to monitor albatross and other bird populations cherish her, and not only because she has provided valuable information about the longevity of these majestic birds. Wisdom weighs only eight pounds, but she has been producing chicks to increase the population of her kind for half a century.

 

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Photo by Pete Leary/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service  This fortunate Laysan albatross chick survived the tsunami that surged over the island back in 2011.

The Laysan Albatross, Phoebastria immutabilis, is a large seabird that ranges across the North Pacific. Compared to other relatives in the albatross family, the Laysan Albatross is a small bird. It is the second most common seabird in the Hawaiian Islands, with an estimated population of 2.5 million birds. Although numbers are thought to be increasing, the Laysan Albatross has not recovered from extensive hunting that drastically reduced the population in the early 1900s.

 

If you would like to see a video of a Laysan albatross feeding a chick, visit https://www.flickr.com/photos/52133016@N08/12310107385/