- Wisdom, a Laysan albatross, is believed to be at least 68 years old and is the world’s oldest known wild bird.
- She returned to her regular nesting site in Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, located within the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the northern Pacific, in November last year, and her new chick hatched earlier this month.
- Millions of Layson albatrosses were slaughtered in the early 1900s for their feathers, which were used in hats in Europe. That makes Wisdom’s contribution to the species’ regeneration important as it recovers from the large-scale hunting, biologists say.
At nearly 70 years, Wisdom, a Laysan albatross, is the world’s oldest known wild bird. She’s also a mother once again.
Wisdom was previously spotted at her regular nesting site in Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, located within the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the northern Pacific, on Nov. 29 last year, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Pacific Region. She then laid an egg, which hatched earlier this month, biologists with the USFWS said in a blog post.
To date, Wisdom is believed to have raised some 36 chicks during her long lifetime.
“Wisdom is rewriting history about our understanding of survivorship, how long birds live, and how often they breed,” Beth Flint, a USFWS biologist, said in the blog post.
Wisdom is unlike most other Laysan albatrosses (Phoebastria immutabilis). The large birds spend much of their lives at sea, returning nearly every year to their nesting sites. There, they meet their mates, whom they tend to keep for life. The albatross pairs lay a single egg, with both parents taking turns to incubate the egg and raise the chick over the next seven months or so. While one parent takes on parental duties, the other goes out to sea to forage for food. This entire process is extremely energy-intensive, so most Laysan albatrosses take a year or two off between laying eggs. But Wisdom and her mate, Akeakamai, have been returning to their nesting site at Midway Atoll every single year since 2006, laying an egg each time.
Millions of Layson albatrosses were slaughtered in the early 1900s for their feathers, used in hats in Europe. That makes Wisdom’s clockwork contribution to regeneration important for a species still recovering from the large-scale hunting, biologists say. While no longer hunted, the species faces new threats, such as the ingestion of plastic at sea, as well as non-native mice that attack the birds while they’re nesting.
“Because Laysan albatross don’t lay eggs every year and when they do, they raise only one chick at a time, the contribution of even one bird to the population makes a difference,” Bob Peyton, the USFWS project leader for Midway Atoll Refuge and Memorial, said in the blog post.
Midway Atoll, where Wisdom lives with her partner, is the most important nesting site for Laysan albatrosses, with nearly 70 percent of the birds’ known population relying on the island. Other species, like the black-footed albatross (Phoebastria nigripes), listed as near threatened on the IUCN Red List just like the Laysan albatross, as well as the vulnerable short-tailed albatross (Phoebastria albatrus), also nest on the island. Biologists estimate that more than 3 million individual birds of more than 20 species live on the island.
Wisdom was first tagged with a tiny band by Chandler Robbins, an American ornithologist, in 1956. Since albatrosses spend their first five-odd years at sea before returning to their home colony on the islands to breed, biologists estimate that Wisdom is at least 68 years old.
It wasn’t until 2002 that Robbins and Wisdom met again in Midway. Robbins attached a new band on her leg that year. USFWS staff located Wisdom on the island once again in 2006, and reattached a new band that would make tracking her easier. Since then, the reserve’s staff have regularly monitored Wisdom, watching her lay an egg on the island each year.