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The Oldest Known Seabird Is About to Lay Another Egg

Wisdom the Laysan albatross has lived at least 64 years and raised as many as 36 chicks

Wisdom (front) and her mate (Kiah Walker, USFWS)
smithsonian.com

A 64-year-old sea bird just returned to her nesting grounds to mate and lay an egg at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific. The aptly-named Wisdom, a Laysan albatross, could beat her own record and cement her title as the oldest known bird to lay an egg and raise a chick, reports Darryl Fears for The Washington Post.

The bird returned to the wildlife refuge over Thanksgiving weekend and mated. Refuge workers expect her back "any day to lay her egg," reports the U.S. Department of the Interior in a blog post

Author and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ornithologist Chandler Robbins first banded Wisdom in 1956, according to the USFWS Pacific Region’s Tumblr blog. Since Laysan albatross don’t return to breed until they are five years old, the service estimates she is at least 64 but could be older. Many birds lose their bands, but Wisdom’s were replaced each time.

Albatross are known to have long lives, but hunting decimated their numbers in the 1950s. Wisdom has survived many threats that face her kind like pollution and plastic consumption, reports Fears. Out of the 21 albatross species that fly over the world’s oceans, 19 are facing extinction, he writes.

Thanks to her long life, Wisdom has some impressive numbers under her belt. She has probably had more than one mate and could have raised as many as 36 chicks. At this point, she is quite a celebrity and carries an extra band on her leg to make her identification even easier. The USFWS even has a video of her laying an egg in 2013.

 Albatrosses can lay one egg per year and spend about six months raising and feeding the young chicks. But not every egg is successful—Wisdom lost her egg last year, perhaps due to predators.

When an egg hatches, foraging flights for food can take the parents hundreds of miles out to sea to hunt for squid or nab flying fish eggs. During these forays and her flights while chick-free, Wisdom may have racked up more than six million ocean miles.

“It is very humbling to think that she has been visiting Midway for at least 64 years," says USFWS Deputy Refuge Manager, Bret Wolfe, in the Tumblr blog post. "Navy sailors and their families likely walked by her not knowing she could possibly be rearing a chick over 50 years later," Wolfe says. "She represents a connection to Midway’s past as well as embodying our hope for the future.”

Editor's note, December 1, 2015: The title of this article was corrected to clarify that Wisdom is the oldest seabird (and oldest bird to lay an egg) but not necessarily the oldest bird in the world.

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