The Strange-ness: World’s Oldest Known Wild Bird Hatches Chick

Wisdom brooding chick February 8, 2013. Photo: John Klavitter USFWS
Wisdom brooding chick February 8, 2013. Photo: John Klavitter USFWS

***UPDATE December 21, 2017***

Wisdom the “Oldest Known Wild Bird” has returned to Midway Atoll.

According to the folks at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, Wisdom has returned for her 67th year and and is currently caring for an egg.

See their announcement and photographs from the Refuge staff at usfwspacific.tumblr.com/post/168787067605/wisdom-the-oldest-known-albatross-returns-to.

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Article below originally published February 15, 2013 in The Grey Area newspaper.

By Ann Bell and Doug Staller, US Fish and Wildlife Services

A Laysan albatross known as “Wisdom” — believed to be at least 62 years old — has hatched a chick on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) for the sixth consecutive year. Early Sunday morning, February 3, 2013, the chick was observed still-wet by US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) biologist Pete Leary, who said the chick appears healthy. Wisdom was first banded in 1956, when she was incubating an egg in the same area of the refuge. She was at least five years old at the time.

“Everyone continues to be inspired by Wisdom as a symbol of hope for her species,” said Doug Staller, Fish and Wildlife Service Superintendent for the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, which includes Midway Atoll NWR.

Staff and volunteers stationed on Midway are responsible for monitoring the health of the beautiful seabirds that arrive every year by the hundreds of thousands to nest. Upon the seabirds’ arrival, field staff monitor them and gather information for one of the longest and oldest continuous survey data sets for tropical seabirds in the world.

Wisdom has worn out five bird bands since she was first banded by US Geological Survey scientist Chandler Robbins in 1956. According to Staller, “Bands have literally worn out on the bird’s leg.”

Robbins estimated Wisdom to be at least 5 years old at the time, since this is the earliest age at which these birds breed. Typically, they breed at 8 or 9 years of age after a very involved courtship lasting over several years so Wisdom could be even older than 62.

“As Wisdom rewrites the record books, she provides new insights into the remarkable biology of seabirds,” said Bruce Peterjohn, chief of the North American Bird Banding Program at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, MD. “It is beyond words to describe the amazing accomplishments of this wonderful bird and how she demonstrates the value of bird banding to better understand the world around us. If she were human, she would be eligible for Medicare in a couple years yet she is still regularly raising young and annually circumnavigating the Pacific Ocean. Simply incredible.”

Peterjohn said Wisdom has likely raised at least 30 to 35 chicks during her breeding life, though the number may well be higher because experienced parents tend to be better parents than younger breeders. Albatross lay only one egg a year, but it takes much of a year to incubate and raise the chick. After consecutive years in which they have successfully raised and fledged a chick, the parents may take the occasional next year off from parenting. Wisdom is known to have nested in 2006 and then every year since 2008.

Sue Schulmeister, Manager of the Midway Atoll NWR, said, “Wisdom is one is one of those incredible seabirds that has provided the world valuable information about the longevity of these beautiful creatures and reinforces the importance of breeding adults in the population. This information helps us measure the health of our oceans that sustain albatross.”

Ann Bell of the USFWS says, “Wisdom is a symbol of hope. Having complete dependence on the health of the ocean to provide her sustenance she has been able to feed herself, as well as her many chicks through the years. She has also survived the constant threat of plastic pollution most albatross have ingested — including pieces of thousands of bottle tops, toothbrushes and parts of cigarette lighters.”

Almost as amazing as being a parent at 62 is the number of miles Wisdom has likely logged — about 50,000 miles a year as an adult — which means that Wisdom has flown at least two million to three million miles since she was first banded. Or, to put it another way, that’s four to six trips from the Earth to the Moon and back again, with plenty of miles to spare.

The Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is located on Midway Island, a US-claimed island northwest of Hawaii. The name, Midway, comes from the island’s location between North America and Asia. For more information and updates, visit www.fws.gov/refuge/Midway_Atoll.

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