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Wisdom survives tsunami waves, officials report

Yesterday, I posted about the tragic death of 110,000 birds on Midway Atoll as a result of the tsunami a few days ago. Among the many missing birds was Wisdom, which is widely considered America’s oldest free-flying bird. Fortunately, the US Fish & Wildlife Service announced last night that Wisdom has been spotted alive with her chick.

Wisdom is a Laysan Albatross, which has colors similar to Gulls but an average wingspan of more than 6 feet.

Amazingly, Wisdom and her chick survived all four tsunami waves that struck the islands, including a 5-foot wave that completely washed over Sand Island at Midway Atoll.

Unfortunately, the parents of a recently hatched “vulnerable” short-tailed albatross are still missing, and officials on Midway are discussing whether they will need to hand-rear the chick if the parents do not return soon.

Laysan Albatrosses are truly amazing birds with admirable habits. From the time they’re chicks they begin an interesting life.

These birds, which are on the vulnerable species list, breed mainly on islands in the Pacific, especially Midway Atoll. When the chicks are born, both their parents will leave them for several days at a time to find food. The young birds usually do not leave the nest until about one year.

Juvenile birds don’t return the the colony for another three years, during which they fly around constantly without ever touching land. The flight of the albatross is almost hypnotic because they don’t need to flap their wings to stay in the air. Instead, they depend on the wind to guide them, and can soar six days without flapping their wings. Satellite tracking has also found that albatrosses can fly around the world in two months and usually fly 50,000 miles each year.

Once the birds do return to the place where they were born, they do not mate for several years. During this time, they forge a bond with a mate, whom they will stay with for the rest of their lives. (Take a look at their mating dance in the video below.) This is important to the Laysan Albatrosses because the entire incubation process takes a lot of time and work. The male and female share duty incubating the eggs for more than 60 days.

At this point in her life, biologists estimate that Wisdom has already flown 3 million miles and hatched about 35 chicks.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.