The world’s oldest known wild bird, named “Wisdom,” has hatched another chick on the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. The new addition to the Refuge’s Laysan albatross population was first observed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Pete Leary on Feb. 3, some 57 years after Wisdom was first banded while incubating an egg in the same area.
Biologists estimated that Wisdom was at least five years old when she laid her first egg back in 1956, given that this is the earliest age when Laysan albatross can breed. But these birds typically breed at eight or nine years of age (following a very involved courtship lasting several years), so it’s possible Wisdom may be older than 62, her current estimated age.
Bruce Peterjohn, chief of the North American Bird Banding Program at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, MD, estimates that Wisdom has raised at least 30-35 chicks. Albatross lay only one egg a year, and then spend much of the year incubating the egg and raising the hatchling. After raising and fledging the chick, parents have been known to take the next year off, possibly to sip Mai Tais in their empty nests or travel.
“Almost as amazing as being a parent at 62 is the number of miles Wisdom has likely logged–about 50,000 miles a year as an adult–which means that Wisdom has flown at least two million to three million miles since she was first banded,” stated a Feb. 7 press release from the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, of which the Midway refuge is part. “Or, to put it another way, that’s four to six trips from the Earth to the Moon and back again, with plenty of miles to spare… Albatross are remarkable fliers who are able to travel thousands of miles on wind currents without ever flapping their wings.”
Nineteen of the 21 species of albatross are threatened species according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Threats to the birds’ survival include longline fishing, marine debris, invasive species and poisoning from the lead-based paints used over the last decades.
“It is beyond words to describe the amazing accomplishments of this wonderful bird and how she demonstrates the value of bird banding to better understand the world around us,” said Peterjohn. “If she were human, she would be eligible for Medicare in a couple years yet she is still regularly raising young and annually circumnavigating the Pacific Ocean. Simply incredible.”
Midway Atoll NWR hosts the world’s largest albatross colony, which is monitored by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff and volunteers. Elsewhere, Ka’ena Point Natural Area Reserve, managed by the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, hosts the only nesting Laysan albatross colony on Oahu and offers hikers the opportunity to observe the seabirds from a distance as they tend to this season’s newly hatched chicks.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service