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              Black-footed (Phoebastria nigripes) and Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis)

Midway Island


Chandler Robbins 


Summary of data file

Project number: 1
Species included in study: Laysan Albatross (Diomedea immutabilis), Black-footed albatross (Diomedea nigripes)
Location of study: Midway Atoll is located in the Pacific Ocean, 150 miles east of the International dateline, 2200 miles west of San Francisco.
Time span: From 1956 to 1968 intensive banding took place.  Less intensive banding has occurred on the Atoll as early as 1937 and as recently as the present year.
Number of years: 14 years
Average number of newly banded birds per year: Thousands (still being entered)
Average number of recaptures/resightings: Thousands (still being entered)
Average number of dead recoveries: less than 100 per year
Number of animals with telemetry data: 0
Banding codes associated with data: 3.00 - birds released
Are data digitally stored: Partially.  The original banding data and recovery data are digitally stored at the BBL.  Recaptures on which replacement bands were placed also are stored digitally at the BBL in the "Multi-file" or on paper.  However, the majority of the recapture data exists only on paper and are currently being entered into the computer.  (see associated data)
Data access: Data is at the BBL. With permission from Chandler Robbins (see contact
Person(s) who collected the data set: Primarily Chandler Robbins, but also John Aldrich and Harvey Fischer.
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Background and Motivation

Midway Island, located in the Pacific Ocean is an important nesting area for seabirds, and modern human influences on this island date back to 1904 when the Pacific Cable Company used the island during the time they were laying transatlantic telegraph cables.  During the 1930’s Pan-American Airways built a hotel called Gooneyville Lodge on the island and during the 1940’s the island was intensively used during the World War II.  After World War II the island was used as part of the Distant Early Warning Line and it continued to be an important military airbase. Over 300 bird-airplane collisions were taking place per year with propeller driven aircraft and jets were about to be introduced to the island.  The US Navy was concerned about albatross getting sucked into jet engines and asked the Fish and Wildlife Service to get involved and solve the problem.

In 1954  two FWS biologists (Phil DuMont and Johnson Neff) performed preliminary work setting up albatross study sites. In 1956 Chandler Robbins and John Aldrich went to Midway for a couple of months (Dec-Jan), located these study sites and also had approximate locations of previous banding by Fred Hayden and the Hawaiin Audubon Society.  In 1937 Fred C. Hayden banded birds near the Gooneyville Lodge area and this area became a focal study area.  1956 was the last year any remains of the Gooneyville Lodge were apparent, but  many birds Phil Dumont had banded were still there. In addition, between 1937 and 1954 there had been several years when people from the Hawaiian Audubon Society went out briefly to band and recapture birds – mostly adults. From 1956 to 1968 Chan Robbins and others banded and recaptured albatross in 3 intensively studied plots on Sand Island and 3 plots on Eastern Island, as well as other less-intensively studied areas.  After 1968 some banding and recaptures have continued to take place, but in a haphazard manner. 

To solve the bird-plane collision problem three recommendations were made: 1.) to pave a wide strip on the edges of the runways to keep birds from nesting close to the runways, 2.) flatten a line of dunes near the runways that provided an updraft for the albatross, and caused them to fly over the runway 3.) kill the birds that had nesting territories along the runways, because they kept returning to their former breeding sites.  These actions reduced the problems and the study ended.

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Spatial Information

Location of study area: Midway Atoll is located in the Pacific Ocean, 150 miles east of the International dateline, 2200 miles west of San Francisco.  Specifically banding took place on four islands (Sand, Eastern, Kure, Pearl and Hermes Reef).  Although banding took place on many other areas throughout these islands, there were 3 specific study areas on Sand Island and 3 on Eastern island in which a 1-foot grid system was instituted and every year every nest was plotted and intensive efforts were made to band all birds.  Once a study area was started, it was sampled every year afterwards.
Study area(s) and sampling changes over time: Although there was some variability in sampling areas over time, the following maps indicate where consistent sampling took place.  

Sand Island - John Aldrich and Chan Robbins officially set up the Fuel Farm Study Area on Sand Island which had a fence around it.They set up a 1-foot grid on the west edge of the fuel farm which had a mixed colony of LAAL and BLAL. The east side had the huge fuel tanks and had few birds probably due to disturbance, but over time more birds nested there.  The 1-foot study grid had markers every 100 feet. This area had a lack of disturbance and made a nice long-term study. Sometime after 1970 the fuel farm was ripped out by the navy and this probably had a negative effect on the birds.  This was after Chan had ended his study.  Another study area was located in the town of Midway.  Originally the Gooneyville lodge was located here.  It was an easy place to band and make maps of.  The third area was the "triangle" area between the runways.  

Eastern Island - Three study areas were set up on Eastern Island.  The "Triangle" Area between the runways also contained a smaller plot in which Harvey Fischer conducted many studies.  The other two study areas were the Eastern Island Study area located at the end of the runway and the South Central Study Area, located south of the runways (see map).  Other study areas are labeled and details about banding activity can be found on a 1 1/2 hour video of an interview with Chan Robbins.  This 2-CD set can be obtained from the BBL.  

Map of study area:  (other maps and photos available soon)

Sand Island.  The Triangle, Fuel Farm and Downtown Midway (roads around Gooneyville Lodge) study areas are shown.

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Fuel Farm Study Area

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Eastern island with runways in yellow and intensive study areas in red.  The triangle area also contained Harvey Fischer's study plot.

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Eastern Island Study Area

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Habitat change: When the Pacific Cable Company was on the island, they planted some evergreens that many birds nested under for shade apparently.
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Temporal Information

Time span: 1956-1970. Less intensive banding has occurred on the Atoll as early as 1937 and as recently as the present year.
Number of years: 14
Missed years: Concerted banding took place in the intensive study areas.  In other areas, banding didn't take place every year. By examining banding records, gaps in coverage could be determined.
Time of year for data collection: Generally went out at the end of January and stayed about two months capturing adults and banding chicks.
Coverage of study area: The intensive study areas were covered thoroughly.  Other areas were covered intermittently.
Effort data: Chandler Robbins has detailed maps of each nesting pair in each study area.
Is the study ongoing?: No
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Operational information

Methods used to catch birds: Active pursuit of birds.  Birds can't take off easily and are reluctant to leave nests.  They are easily caught.
Marking techniques used in addition to a single aluminum band: Birds were banded with FWS bands.  When birds were recaught and the band looked like it was in bad shape, a second band was put on.  Monel bands were placed on as many birds as could be.  Towards the end of the study all birds received double bands.
If recaught birds, that had been marked in more than one way, had lost an identifier, was this noted?: Chandler made notes of this in his field notes.
Were any of these birds experimental birds?: No.
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Associated data

User-defined fields in Band Manager:
Recaptured data are being entered with a customized data-entry program.  This file contains more specific information on exactly which study area birds were banded.  This file also contains data on breeding status (nester, walker) and whether nest contents were eggs, pipping eggs, nestlings.  Currently most of the data exists on field notebooks.

Below are examples of a field notebook and data:

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Other data:
Chandler Robbins made detailed 1-ft grid maps of nest locations of all study areas each year.  These maps also have each nesting pair designated as well as mensurable data on these birds such as culmen length, wing length and weight.
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Publications and other available information


Robbins, C.S. and D.W. Rice. Recoveries of banded Laysan Albatrosses (Diomedea immutabilis) and Black-footed Albatrosses (D. nigripes). Pgs 232-277 in Pelagic studies of seabirds in the Central and Eastern Pacific Ocean (W.B. King ed). Smithsonian Contribution to Zoology no. 158. Smithsonian Institution Press. Washington D.C. 277 pgs.

Kenyon, K.W., D.W. Rice, C.S. Robbins, and J.A. Aldrich. 1958. Birds and aircraft on Midway Islands – 1956-1957 investigations. Fish and Wildlife Service special scientific report – wildlife no. 38. US Dept. of the Interior. Washington DC 51pgs. (Maps on pg10-11 are referred to in transcript).

Rice, D.W. 1959. Birds and aircraft on Midway Islands – 1959 investigations. Fish and Wildlife Service special scientific report – wildlife no. 44. US Dept. of the Interior. Washington DC 49pgs.

Robbins, C.S. 1966. Birds and aircraft on Midway Islands – 1959-1963 investigations. Fish and Wildlife Service special scientific report – wildlife no. 85. US Dept. of the Interior. Washington DC 63pgs.

Other Resources: 
Further details can be gotten from a 1 1/2 hour interview done with Chandler Robbins during the Fall of 2000.  This is a digital video on 2 CD-ROMS.

Midway National Wildlife Refuge



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Chandler Robbins
USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Refuge
11410 American Holly Dr
Laurel MD 20708-4015
phone: 301-497-5641
fax:  301-497-5624
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Currently recapture data are being entered.  A data-entry program has been developed and volunteers are entering data.  If you would like to assist in entering data we can send photocopies of the records and a copy of the program and give instructions on how to use it.  All help is much appreciated!  Contact


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