Meet Wisdom, the world’s oldest known banded bird in the wild. She is 64 years old. Wisdom is a Laysan albatross, a large seabird that ranges across the North Pacific and have unusually long lives, but not as long as Wisdom’s. Most Laysan albatrosses are typically dead by forty.
Wisdom was first banded in 1956 by noted author and now retired senior scientist at the United States Geological Survey, Chandler Robbins. Many birds lose their bands before they can be replaced. Wisdom’s bands, however, were continuously replaced and because of meticulous record keeping associated with bird banding, ornithologists can verify that she is at least 64 years old, but she could be older. Last month, she returned to Midway Atoll in north-west of Hawaii, after exactly one year, with her current partner Mr. Goo, with whom she has been going out since at least December 2012. The Midway Islands are home to 99.7% of the albatross population. Shortly after her arrival, Wisdom laid an egg.
On November 19, 2015 Wisdom Returned to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and was observed with her mate on November 21. Photo credit: Kiah Walker/USFWS
Laysan albatrosses typically mate for life, and Wisdom has had more than one mate. Researchers estimate that Wisdom has raised as many as 36 chicks in her lifetime. Laying only one egg per year, a breeding albatross and their mate will spend approximately six months rearing and feeding their young. When not tending to their chicks, albatross forage hundreds of miles out at sea periodically returning with meals of squid or flying fish eggs. It’s thought that Wisdom has clocked over six million ocean miles of flight time. That’s more than fifteen times the distance between the earth and the moon.
“In the face of dramatic seabird population decreases worldwide –70% drop since the 1950’s when Wisdom was first banded–Wisdom has become a symbol of hope and inspiration,” said Refuge Manager, Dan Clark.” We are a part of the fate of Wisdom and it is gratifying to see her return because of the decades of hard work conducted to manage and protect albatross nesting habitat.”
“It is very humbling to think that she has been visiting Midway for at least 64 years,” said Deputy Refuge Manager, Bret Wolfe. “Navy sailors and their families likely walked by her not knowing she could possibly be rearing a chick over 50 years later. She represents a connection to Midway’s past as well as embodying our hope for the future.”
Update: The egg has hatched, on February 1, 2016. It was named Kūkini, which is a Hawaiian word for messenger.
Wisdom (right) "talks" to her egg shortly after laying her egg on November 28, 2015. Male and female Laysan albatross couples make shift changes with the male making the first a very long shift (up to 3 weeks) allowing the female a chance to replenish her fat reserves. After the egg hatches they both continue sharing the responsibility of feeding and rearing their chick. Photo by Dan Clark/USFWS
Photo credit: Kiah Walker/USFWS
Photo credit: Kiah Walker/USFWS
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