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» » The Albatross of Midway Island: A Natural History of the Laysan Albatross
The Albatross of Midway Island: A Natural History of the Laysan Albatross

The Albatross of Midway Island: A Natural History of the Laysan Albatross

Milderd L. Fisher
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4.3 of 5
Southern Illinois University Press; 1st edition (June 1, 1970)
Biological Sciences

Scientifically accurate, this story of the Laysan Albatross is told from the point of view of the young bird as he begins life and as he matures to adulthood. A unique and little-known bird, the Laysan spends most of its life at sea, roaming tens of thousands of miles of ocean. The adults, whose life-span is as much as thirty years, return to land each winter to reproduce and raise their young. After its initial departure from Midway, at about five months of age, the young bird does not return to breed for seven or eight years.


Mildred L. Fisher, the wife of Harvey I. Fisher, a noted zoologist who has conducted extensive research on the Albatross at the invitation of the Office of Naval Research, has accompanied her husband on many trips to Midway and has served as his research assistant. From her experience she has developed a respect and affection for the “goonies,” which she feels is outside the scope of scientific data. It is her desire here to present, to all readers interested in natural history, a personable view of this interesting and unusual bird. The result is a story of the Laysan Albatross told with imagination and feeling.


Illustrated with over sixty black-and-white photographs.

Download The Albatross of Midway Island: A Natural History of the Laysan Albatross by Milderd L. Fisher free
2 Reviews
  • For most people Midway Island is a small drab island west of Hawaii where the US Navy avenged Pearl Harbor by destroying a superior Japanese Navy's invading carrier fleet in a decisive battle of World War II. Yet for centuries and centuries Midway Island - or better Midway Atoll - has had a more long-lasting role as the home and breeding ground for the great winged Laysan Albatross. The Albatross of Midway Island is a careful and nicely human record of several winters and a summer spent on Midway island studying these seabirds durng the 1960's by Mildred Fisher, wife of a noted zoologist. During this time ornithologists research every aspect of the land life of these birds. Working as one of them and research assistant to her husband, Mrs Fisher compiled this book covering the entire life-cycle of the Laysan Albatross. Commonly nicknamed "Gooney birds" for the awkward land behavior of these majestic long-winged ocean soarers, the albatross life cycle is here superbly presented in 9 excellent chapters.

    Included are a number (more than 60) of appropriate small and medium black and white pictures.

    The Albatross of Midway Island focuses largely on the activities of the albatross on their return to Midway for breeding. Yet the author expands the book from this highly detailed account with several long chapters imaginatively narrating travels - sometimes lasting several years - of the albatross across the northern Pacific.

    What sets this book apart from many is the writers voice. Mrs. Fisher gives an endearing portrait of these birds, while somehow being quite blunt about realities; whether it might be the ravages of weather, late rainfall or storms; the violence of attacks at sea from predators such as Hammerheads, or many other species of sharks; injury to their all-important wings or loss of parents or partner.

    (Shark attacks in particular reveal the awful fragility of the young birds chances. One large shark, devouring the young birds en masse in the shallow Midway lagoon, is dragged ashore by the Navy. Over 18 feet long, when the killed shark is lifted up 17 albatross carcasses spill out.)

    Before the recent 2003 publishing of the superb The Eye of the Albatross, a very complementary book to this volume, Eye of the Albatross: Visions of Hope and Survival The Albatross of Midway Island was the best book about this marvelous seabird. Written from an intimate daily perspective, this personal account remains a landmark work, and is one of my most treasured books about nature. Mrs. Fischer fills her book with all the day by day doings of albatross life and society, yet each paragraph moves nicely along without bogging down. We watch along with her as she oversees a new season of life, as the albatross return to Midway Island for nesting, through the breeding and on to the young albatross as it leaves Midway for its three thousand mile journey to the juvenile feeding grounds. Finally Mrs. Fisher imagines the secret world of the ocean wanderer, flying thousands of miles on the most subtle currents. Yet she also captures with superb visual prose the very real sights on Midway. Here is her description of a returning junior albatross;

    "Just clearing the rooftop of the Officer's Club and barely missing a cylcist on the black macadam, he tumbled to an end-over-end stop. He was to be excused, for it was his first hard landing in a year."

    As was more common in the past Mrs. Fisher falls into human analogies, but they usually make sense, and are used to give a fuller panorama of the
    complex and varied behavior rather than to evoke any linking with human emotions or traits.

    Following a confused first try at courtship rituals the young adult leaves. "After just two April days of self-conscious bystanding, of being a wallflower at a party designed to get everyone acquainted, he returned to the sea, which was a safe and comforting, if lonely, place for a young albatross unsure of his social manners."

    Like the best such books on a particular bird or animal, The Albatross of Midway Island wonderfully conveys our species fortunate position in Nature, for we are uniquely allowed the privilege of appreciating not only our own lives but the infinite richness of life on our planet.

    The author's name is misspelled. Other listings for this book on Amazon; c
    The Albatross of Midway Island. A Natural History of the Laysan Albatross. and also,

    A book about the Midway Albatross written for young children, on Amazon,
    The Albatrosses of Midway Island (Carolrhoda Nature Watch Series)

    NOTE: Midway Island - Atoll - is controlled by the Federal Government as a Wildlife Refuge. Almost exactly half-way around the world from the International Date Line, Midway is well named, a volcanic atoll rising up just about half-way between California and Japan. For a time you could visit Midway, but visits have been suspended. Currently plans are in motion to reopen the area for visitors starting in 2008 under new guidelines. Last count of the Laysans showed almost 400,000 at one time, with an estimate of total birds of nearly 1,500,000. So the beloved 'Goonies' are not going the way of the passenger pigeon quite yet, despite what some alarmists claim. Midway is also home to a number of other species of bird and mammal and sea creature. The government has a website.

  • Just received this used book (it's out of print apparently) and am very impressed. I met Mrs. Fisher when she spent the winter of 1964-65 on Midway and my dad was the CO. She and Dr. Fisher were very pleasant and spent long days on their research. The only faults I have found are that she refers to the harbor pilot as "Captain" Yates. As a civilian, he had no actual rank, but I believe he was a retired Chief Petty Officer. In addition, she has named my father, in the introduction, Fred although his given name was Frank and everyone knew him as Dan. All in all a delightful book as is her husband's if you're fortunate enough to find it somewhere. Both of the Fisher's had great respect and fascination with the "goonies" as did all those fortunate enough to experience them in their habitat for an extended time. This book helps me relive my year and a half from over 50 years ago. Thanks.