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Defying Conventional Wisdom at 60

Albatross celebrates birthday with a new chick

Wisdom the albatross. Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Scientists know her as Wisdom. She’s a Laysan albatross who was banded by a member of the U.S. Geological Survey as she incubated an egg in 1956 at Midway Atoll, a remote wildlife refuge 1,300 miles northwest of Honolulu.

At that time, Wisdom was estimated to be at least 5 years old. Since then, she’s worn out five bird bands.

A few weeks ago, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist spotted Wisdom again. And once again she was mothering a chick.

Bruce Peterjohn, chief of the North American Bird Banding Program, said Wisdom is the oldest wild bird documented by the 90-year-old bird banding program.

“She looks great,” he said in a news release. “To know that she can still successfully raise young at age 60-plus, that is beyond words.”

Wisdom has probably raised at least 30 to 35 chicks during her life.

It’s especially heartening that Wisdom is still alive and well and having chicks. Albatrosses are having an increasingly hard time raising chicks and finding food. They get caught in huge fishing nets and lines that stretch for miles across the ocean. And dead birds are increasingly found with all manner of plastic and other junk in their stomachs that they mistakenly identified as food.

Albatrosses mate for life. Mothers lay just one egg a year, and it takes most of a year to incubate and raise each chick.

Mother and father take turns going out across the ocean to gather food to bring back to the chick. Each trip can take several weeks. It’s hard work, and the birds sometimes take a year off from parenting after successfully raising a new member of the family.