Wisdom, the World's Oldest-known Bird, Lays Another Egg


A 68-year-old Laysan albatross known as Wisdom is once again busy rearing a chick on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Public Domain

Imagine having raised 35 children. Then, imagine that, at the age of 68, you're about to have another one. Welcome to the life of Wisdom, possibly the oldest wild bird in the world, who was confirmed on Nov. 29, 2018, to have laid yet another egg.

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. 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 2006. 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 pushing 70 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.