Biologists at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge have confirmed that Wisdom, a 63-year-old Laysan Albatross, is busy raising another chick. First banded as an adult by the US Geological Survey’s Chandler Robbins in 1956, Wisdom is the oldest known wild bird. In her long life it estimated that Wisdom already raised at least 30 to 35 chicks, at the rate of approximately one per year with periods of non-breeding.
“As the world’s oldest known bird in the wild, Wisdom is an iconic symbol of inspiration and hope for all seabird species.” Dan Clark, refuge manager for Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, said in a statement. “She provides to the world valuable information about the longevity of these beautiful creatures. In the case of Wisdom, she has logged literally millions of miles over the Pacific Ocean in her lifetime to find enough fish eggs and squid to feed herself and multiple chicks, allowing us the opportunity to measure the health of our oceans which sustain albatross as well as ourselves.”
The chick was first found on the morning of February 4 by the refuge’s visitor services manager Ann Bell. Wisdom’s mate could be found nearby, swapping turns with the experienced mother in brooding the chick. Albatrosses mate for life, although with an average lifespan of 14 to 40 years, Wisdom has likely had many suitors in her time. When the chick grows large enough to stay by itself, Wisdom and her mate will commute to nearby islands and waters in search of food. These trips do not always end up with fish, however. Refuge experts believe that the albatrosses also bring back all sorts of interesting mementos, including more than five tons of plastic objects.
The raising of albatross young is an arduous process that takes the better part of a year. Wisdom and her partner may take next year off parenting and travel across the Pacific Ocean. It is believed that the average adult albatross will log 50,000 miles of flight time every year, which means that Wisdom likely will have flown at least two to three million miles since she was first identified in 1956.
“Her ability to continue to hatch chicks during the last half century is beyond impressive despite the threats that albatross face at sea.” said refuge biologist Pete Leary. “It is a poignant and overwhelming reality that plastics discarded at sea float, from toothbrushes to millions of bottle caps, float and, are used as a substrate for flying fish to attach their eggs, a food highly prized by foraging albatross and ultimately regurgitated into the chick’s mouth. In addition, the chick’s sole survival is completely dependent on the health of Wisdom and her life-long mate and their dual ability to provide for food and protection.”
Several years ago Wisdom was thought to have perished in a tsunami that swept over the part of the refuge. An experienced survivor, she was later found safe and healthy with yet another chick in her keeping.
Image courtesy Ann Bell/US Fish and Wildlife Service