Wisdom, the World's Oldest-known Bird, Welcomes Another Chick

By: Jesslyn Shields  | 

Wisdom
Wisdom's newest chick is seen here with its father, Akeakamai, shortly after it hatched. Jon Brack/Friends of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

The cigars have been passed out and the nursery painted. In a birth announcement made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the welcome news comes that Wisdom, the 70-year-old Laysan albatross who lives at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, has overseen the hatching of a brand new baby chick, bringing her lifetime total to between at least 30 and 36 chicks. This latest bouncing baby albatross (sex unknown at this time) was hatched on Feb. 1, 2021, and mother and baby are doing well. The baby daddy, Wisdom's mate Akeakamai, is said to be thrilled.

Wisdom is a Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis), a giant seabird that nests in large breeding colonies in the northern islands of the Hawaiian archipelago. She was first banded by researchers on Midway Atoll in 1956 when scientists at the time estimated she was about 6 years old.

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Albatrosses spend about 90 percent of their time at sea, soaring for days at a time over open ocean on their humongous wings, hardly ever resting except to land on the water to feed on fish eggs and squid floating on the surface. Once a year, more than a million Laysan albatrosses meet their partners on just two little Hawaiian islands in order to lay a single egg each and raise the chicks. It's very common for pairs to take breaks for a year, but Wisdom has produced an egg with her mate, Akeakamai, every year since they got together back in 2012. She doesn't seem that interested in slowing down, either.

To put Wisdom's longevity into context, Laysan albatrosses generally enjoy a lifespan of anywhere between 12 and 40 years, so the fact that she's 70 — and a new mom — is really remarkable. Scientists say she's looking great for her age.

Laysan albatrosses are considered "near threatened" due to a number of dangers. For starters, since they eat things floating on the surface of the water, like many sea birds, albatrosses are sometimes found dead with a belly full of plastic bags and bubble tea straws. And since they didn't evolve with any predators other than sharks, species that have been introduced, such as dogs, cats, mongoose and even mice can terrorize Laysan albatrosses as they dutifully incubate the single egg they tend each year.

In the future, sea level rise will encroach on their low-lying nesting islands, but for now Wisdom, her chicks and probably her chick's chick's chicks return each year to sit on a beach with over a million others, keeping their precious eggs warm.

Originally Published: Dec 21, 2018

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