World's Oldest Known Wild Bird Lays Egg at 67
Wisdom is a "beacon of hope" for the Laysan albatross, which faces threats such as ingesting ocean plastic.
Wisdom, the albatross supermom, has done it again. At 67, the world's oldest known wild bird has laid an egg at her home on the Midway Atoll.
Wisdom and her mate, Akeakamai, return each year to the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument to nest and raise a single chick. On December 13, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) confirmed the pair were incubating a new egg.
In her long life, Wisdom has outlived several mates and raised anywhere from 30 to 35 chicks. (See National Geographic's pictures of animal mothers and babies.)
She's also remarkable for having logged an estimated two to three million miles since 1956—or four to six round trips to the moon, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. (Related: "Albatross's Effortless Flight Decoded—May Influence Future Planes.")
"It's just unprecedented that we have a bird that we know of that's 67 years old and still reproducing," says Kate Toniolo, deputy superintendent for the marine national monument.
"It makes you wonder—could there be a bird two nests away from Wisdom that's even older?"
A BIRD NAMED WISDOM
Wisdom's story as we know it began on December 10, 1956, when USFWS biologist Chandler Robbins banded an ordinary-looking Laysan albatross on the Midway Atoll.
The bird wasn’t seen until 46 years later, in 2002, when Robbins happened to recapture the bird again. (See National Geographic's bird pictures.)
Her seemingly advanced age and good health earned her the name Wisdom. (Like Wisdom, Robbins stayed active in old age—until his death in 2017 at age 98, he worked with birds at Maryland's Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.)
Robbins had a fondness for Wisdom, particularly because she's avoided so many hazards of her species, such as ingesting ocean plastic or getting caught in a fisherman's longline, he told National Geographic in 2013.
"You're talking about a bird that stretches our understanding because it's so unlike our life history and 99 percent of the animals we interact with on a daily basis," adds Charles Eldermire, bird cams project leader for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York. (Watch the Cornell Lab's Laysan albatross bird cam in Kauai.)
Most wild birds struggle to survive, find a mate, and raise chicks—much less do it almost every year for six decades, says Eldermire. Wisdom "really breaks the mold."
Not only that, Wisdom has mastered the albatross' challenging lifestyle—foraging for hundreds of thousands of miles over the vast ocean, coping with an extreme climate, and finding a piece of remote land on which to raise their chicks, Eldermire notes.
"She's both an incredibly lucky bird and an incredibly learned bird," he says.
And every chick Wisdom raises is one more win for her species, which the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists as near-threatened, says Toniolo.
Nearly 70 percent of Laysan albatrosses nest on Midway, so a tsunami like the one spawned by the 2011 Japan earthquake could wipe out many of the birds in one swoop.
"It shows how important every bird is for ensuring the survival of the species," she says.
Carrie Arnold contributed reporting.
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