At the age of more than 70, Wisdom, the oldest known wild bird in the world, is once again accepting the challenge of motherhood.
An egg laid late last year by Wisdom, a Laysan albatross, on a patch of land in the Pacific that hatched early last month, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service announced.
Biologists believe Wisdom, first identified and banded on Midway Atoll in 1956, hatched between 30 and 36 chicks, possibly more.
Even before it became the world’s oldest known breeding bird, wisdom defied expectations.
It has covered hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of miles flying around the northern Pacific and earned the accolade of living about twice the length of the average Laysan albatross.
“Albatrosses are extremely long-lived, but the unusual thing about wisdom is that it is so much older than other birds,” said Professor Richard Phillips, a seabird ecologist and leader of the British Antarctic Survey’s senior predator and conservation group.
“You wouldn’t expect a bird to be an outlier like her,” added Professor Phillips, explaining that the next oldest banded albatross he has ever met is 61 years old, at least nine years younger than Wisdom.
Although albatrosses tend to mate for life, Wisdom’s longevity means they have had multiple partners, said Dr. Beth Flint, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in an online post. The father of the chick, which hatched on February 1, is Akeakamai, who has been Wisdom’s friend since at least 2012.
Parents share feeding duties for the chick and feed on fish eggs and octopus by belching the food they feed at sea into their offspring’s mouths. The chick should be ready to fly for the first time by summer, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said.
The Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial at the far northern end of the Hawaiian Islands are home to the world’s largest colony of albatrosses and millions of other seabirds.
Albatrosses like Wisdom and Akeakamai return to the 2.5 square mile island to nest and mate each winter. These seabirds typically lay at most one egg per year because of the effort involved in incubating, feeding and raising it after hatching.
Wisdom has surprised researchers in this regard too, as it has hatched chicks almost every year for the past 15 years.
“Albatrosses are normally expected to age the same as humans and that their breeding frequency and success decrease with age. So wisdom is unusual in that it still seems to breed fairly regularly,” said Professor Phillips.
How many more years will wisdom survive to keep hatching chicks? “Nobody really knows,” said Mike Parr, president of the American Bird Conservancy. “We are in uncharted territory,” he said, adding that the bird’s survival so far has been a glimmer of hope.
Midway Atoll Conservation Area biologists have studied and tracked thousands of albatrosses like Wisdom for 85 years. Wisdom has been returning to the island for decades, and even survives ornithologist Chandler Robbins who first tied them.
The return of wisdom, said Dr. Flint, “not only inspires bird lovers everywhere, but also helps us better understand how to protect these graceful seabirds and the habitat they will need to survive in the future.”