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U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE National Wildlife Refuge System Pacific Islands Ecoregion Honolulu, Hawaii


They’re ba-a-a-ack! The annual return of Laysan albatross to the tiny islands of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is now under way, with the first bird sighted Saturday morning at 8:00 a.m. In the coming days, more than 800,000 birds will land on Midway to begin their nesting season.

"As the most numerous seabird species at Midway Atoll, we always look forward to the return of the Laysan albatross," explained Rob Shallenberger, Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge Manager. "The black-footed albatross return a little earlier – on October 18 this year – but with fewer than 50,000 birds, they don’t have the same visual impact as the Laysan albatross."

At first only a few albatross arrive, but as the days continue, thousands of Laysan albatross may arrive during a single day, Shallenberger explained. "Most of these albatross are returning to the island where they were hatched and raised years ago," he said. "A little later in the year, some albatross will make their first trip back to land after being at sea for five years or more."

"The atoll always feels empty without the albatross, and I am always glad to see them return," said Shallenberger. "Midway offers the unique opportunity for visitors to see 70 percent of the world’s population of Laysan albatross on one atoll, and we enjoy sharing this wildlife spectacle with the world."

A rare short-tailed albatross or "golden gooney" returned to Sand Island in Midway Atoll on October 28. The 18-year-old bird is a favorite of visitors and residents alike. "Unfortunately, she always comes alone and has never had a mate. About every other year, she lays a sterile egg and incubates it for up to two months before finally abandoning it," explained Shallenberger.

Although Laysan albatross are among the smallest of the albatross species, adults can weigh more than 7 pounds and have an 80-inch wingspan. Like most seabirds, they have a long lifespan, and the oldest Laysan albatross on Midway is more than 44 years of age.

"These birds mate for life, beginning at the age of about 7 or 8," said Shallenberger. "They lay a single egg, but the job of raising a chick requires the full attention of both parents for almost 8 months out of every year."

Laysan albatross generally lay their eggs on Midway by mid-December, and chicks hatch in late January and early February. They generally are ready to fledge in July. Parents take turns incubating the egg, keeping the young chick warm, and feeding it. In June or July, when the chicks are grown and ready to learn to fly, the parents stop feeding them. The young birds make their way to the beaches and, through a trial and error process, learn how to fly.

After fledging, Laysan albatross generally spend up to five years at sea, usually west and northwest of the atoll, before returning to land on Midway. They then begin to learn an elaborate mating dance that varies from one albatross species to another. They may come to Midway for two or three years before finding a mate and producing their first chick.

Midway Atoll is the only remote island National Wildlife Refuge open for public visitation. Besides wildlife viewing – Hawaiian monk seals and green sea turtles as well as seabirds and shorebirds – the islands offer catch-and-release sport fishing, scuba diving and snorkeling, historical tours, wildlife research projects, and historical restoration projects. Information about visiting Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is available by calling (888) 643-9291 or (808) 325-5000.

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