The Gooney Birds of Midway Island


Photos provided by

Ford Murray, docent extraordinaire, from USS Missouri, Pearl Harbor, HI

Ford Murray on Midway

World traveler, Ford Murray with some new friends

Gooney Birds

Many Veterans make the yearly trip from Hawaii to Midway Island.

Midway gun emplacement

Despite untold coats of paint, the salt air has taken its toll on this gun emplacement.

Having been on Midway Island a number of times it always was the same. Wandering around the first time I was there I came across a little pile of metal and sand a couple of feet high with a 4 x 4 post about 6 feet high on which were nailed 1 x 4 x 2 ft long which were arrows pointing in different directions and a mileage figure was painted on each one telling how far it was to Pearl Harbor, Wake, Yokuska, San Francisco and a few other places.

At the bottom there was the one sign never to be forgotten which declared elevation 7 feet above sea level. It did not take much of a storm to put Midway Island underwater.

But the most memorable thing after the battle of Midway was no doubt the gooney birds. They were a constant source of surprise and laughter. Watching them take off and land was a constant source of amusement and you could watch them all day and still be laughing. In the air they were a sight to behold and beautiful in flight.

When they went to land they would run as they slowed down and then might just fold up their wings and stop running. Then they would just tumble until they stopped. It was like watching waves. They all look alike but each is different and so was each takeoff and each landing.

Taking off was the same. They would run and flop their wings and sometime make it into the air. At other times they might keep flopping their wings but stop running and just tumble. It seemed like they just forgot what they were trying to do, be it taking off or landing. Needless to say it was comical at all times and you never got tired of watching the gooney birds antics :-)

They are actually Laysan Albatross. Today they are eating the lead based paint off the abandoned navy buildings and dying by the thousands. Midway is the last place on earth and when one says there is nothing to do, there is the place.

Once airborne it was just unbelievable. They were the masters of the sky. Their wingspan is over 6 feet. To feed their young they fly as far as Alaska and it takes both parents to feed one chick.

About 90 percent of the gooney birds in the world live on Midway. The Navy tried every thing to get rid of them but they are still there. Well the gooney birds were everywhere and I doubt you could count them. They were all over the runways on Midway and Sand Island and many failed to get out of the way so there were lots of road kill ready for the plate :-)

It appears they are going to survive the lead paint on their own, as the clean up will likely require millions of dollars and it is doubtful any will be spent. The US Navy and the Army have come and gone from Midway Island but the Gooney Birds are still there.  Gene