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68-Year-Old Albatross Lays Another Egg

Midway Atoll —(Map)

The world’s oldest known wild bird, an albatross named Wisdom, has returned to her nesting place in the Midway Atoll. The 68-year-old bird has just laid another egg.

The Midway Atoll is made of two small islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, about halfway between the US and Asia. The island is home to about 3 million seabirds, who return there every year to mate, lay their eggs, and raise their chicks.

World's largest albatross colony at Midway Atoll. Photo credit: Andy Collins/NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries
Midway Atoll is home to about 3 million seabirds, About 1.3 million of these birds are Laysan Albatrosses.
(Source: Andy Collins/NOAA, USFWS – Pacific Region, via Flickr.com.)

About 1.3 million of these birds are Laysan Albatrosses. Albatrosses are huge birds that spend much of their life at sea. With their wings spread out, albatrosses measure around 6.5 feet (2 meters) from wingtip to wingtip.

Midway is an important place for albatrosses, and an important place for scientists who want to study them. One of the ways scientists can study birds is by banding them. Putting a small numbered band on the leg of a bird, helps scientists tell which bird is which. This makes it easier to keep track of what happens among the birds. Over 250,000 albatrosses have been banded on Midway since 1936.

USFWS Refuge biologist Meg DuhrSchultz and volunteer Aisha Rickli-Rahman banded Wisdom's chick with a permanent adult band on May 5, 2016. Wisdom is the world's oldest known bird in the wild at 65+ years old. She nests at Midway Atoll Refuge and Memorial each year. Her chick Kūkini hatched February 1, 2016.
One of the ways scientists can study birds is by banding them. Putting a small numbered band on the leg of a bird, helps scientists tell which bird is which.
(Source: USFWS – Pacific Region, via Flickr.com.)

In 1956, a scientist named Chandler Robbins was banding albatrosses. He didn’t know it, but one of the albatrosses he banded was Wisdom. Wisdom was just five years old and still didn’t have a name.

In 2002, when Mr. Robbins returned to Midway, he came across Wisdom once more. When he checked the band number, he saw that he had been the first one to put a band on her – 46 years before.

Chandler Robbins banding another albatross in 1966.
In 1956, a scientist named Chandler Robbins was banding albatrosses. He didn’t know it, but one of the albatrosses he banded was Wisdom. The two met again in 2002. In this picture, Mr. Robbins is banding an albatross in 1966.
(Source: USFWS.)

Wisdom was using the same nesting spot. Albatrosses return to the same nesting spot every year, which is one reason it’s important to protect bird nesting areas.

When albatrosses choose a partner, they remain partners for life. But Wisdom has been alive so long that she has had a few partners. Wisdom’s partner for many years now is a bird called Akeakamai.

Mate (left) and Wisdom with egg_28NOV15 3 - Male and female Laysan albatross couples make approximately 48 hour shift changes while incubating and sheltering their egg. After the egg hatches they both continue sharing the responsibility of feeding and rearing their chick. Photo by: Dan Clark
When albatrosses choose a partner, they remain partners for life. Wisdom’s partner for many years now is a bird called Akeakamai (left).
(Source: Dan Clark, USFWS – Pacific Region, via Flickr.com.)

Wisdom is not just old, she is also active. Because it takes so much time and energy to raise a chick – it takes about seven months until a chick can fly – many albatrosses lay eggs every other year. But Wisdom has laid an egg every single year since 2006. Counting this year’s egg, she’s probably laid about 40 eggs in all.

Wisdom and Akeakamai take turns sitting on the egg. Once the chick is born, probably sometime in February, they will take turns caring for the chick and flying out to sea for food.

Wisdom and her new chick, February 2017.
Once the chick is born, probably sometime in February, Wisdom and Akeakamai will take turns caring for the chick and flying out to sea for food. This is a chick that Wisdom raised in 2017.
(Source: Naomi Blinick, USFWS – Pacific Region, via Flickr.com.)

Adult albatrosses spend a lot of their lives flying over the sea, resting from time to time on the water to eat. Wisdom has probably flown about 3 million miles in her lifetime!

In 2017, scientists spotted one of Wisdom’s children in a nest very close to Wisdom’s own nest. Because Wisdom has been laying eggs for so long, she could have her chicks and the chicks of her chicks all around her. There may soon be one more to add to the list.

Wisdom incubating her egg, December 2018. Wings spread - egg.
The world’s oldest known wild bird, an albatross named Wisdom, has returned to her nesting place in the Midway Atoll. The 68-year-old bird has just laid another egg.
(Source: Madalyn Riley, USFWS – Pacific Region, via Flickr.com.)

Midway Atoll


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