The grand chick of Wisdom, a Laysan albatross that is the oldest know banded bird in the wild, was readied for lift off styling its new bands in June of 2023. Friends of Midway Atoll board member Ann Bell cradled the chick while US Fish & Wildlife Service volunteer Anna Staudenmaier adorned its left leg with an easy-to-read “auxiliary” band. The grand chick now sports red-and-white band DJ33, along with a numbered USGS metal alloy band that will be part of a national database.
DJ33 is part of a long legacy of banding on Midway that offers insights into the natural history of these remarkable birds. Volunteers spotted the chick’s mother wearing band DH00, in February 2023 while they were searching for the highly invasive plant Verbasina enceliodes. The chick’s father appeared a week later, soon after the chick hatched, to take his shift on the nest: a check of his auxiliary band, N333, against the atoll’s banding records showed him to be Wisdom’s 12-year-old son.
As a chick himself, Wisdom’s son survived one of the Midway’s most traumatic natural events. On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.1 earthquake off the coast of Japan sent a massive ocean swell surging across the Pacific. That night, as Midway’s human residents sheltered on the third floor of “Charlie” barracks, the tsunami inundated most of Eastern Island and parts of Sand Island with water and debris. Too young to fly, over 100,000 albatross chicks drowned, along with countless Bonin Petrels and other birds.
Wisdom was most recently sighted on Sand Island on Thanksgiving Day 2022. Although she did not nest this past year, Wisdom, who is at least 73, continues to provide knowledge that helps her species survive as well as serving as something all of us can appreciate: an enduring symbol of hope.