The oldest known banded bird on record has returned to a national wildlife refuge in the Pacific Ocean and is expected to soon lay an egg – her 37th known to researchers.
At least 64 years old, Wisdom the Laysan albatross (pictured above left with her mate) returned to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial within Papahānaumokuākea (say that three times real fast!) Marine National Monument. That’s located in the Pacific Ocean northwest of Hawaii. The bird returned on November 19 — almost a year to the day it returned last year — Wisdom was spotted with its mate among the world’s largest nesting albatross colony.
“Wisdom left soon after mating, but we expect her back any day now to lay her egg,” said Deputy Refuge Manager, Bret Wolfe. “It is very humbling to think that she has been visiting Midway for at least 64 years. 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.”
Wisdom the albatross was first banded in 1956. And because the species does not return to breed until they are at least 5 years old, it is estimated Wisdom is at least 64 years old, but could be older. 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, it can be verified as the same bird first banded by noted author and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ornithologist, Chandler Robbins.
Although Laysan albatrosses typically mate for life, Wisdom has likely had more than one mate and has raised as many as 36 chicks. 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. Wisdom has likely clocked over six million ocean miles of flight time!
“In the face of dramatic seabird population decreases worldwide –70 percent drop since the 1950s 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.”
Did you have any idea birds could live as long as 64 years in the wild? The next time you refer to somebody as an “old bird,” think about this old gal, still laying eggs at retirement age!