In 1956, a biologist named Chandler Robbins slipped a band onto the leg of what he believed to be a six-year-old albatross on Midway Atoll, a tiny island in the Hawaiian archipelago that’s known as a destination for mating seabirds. Little did he know that six decades later, Wisdom the albatross would still be alive—and nesting. As the Associated Press reports, the now senior albatross, who is the oldest known seabird in the world, is expecting another baby. She's estimated to be at least 66 years old.
Biologists on the atoll, which is a national wildlife refuge and part of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, recently spotted the bird with an egg in her nest. She uses the same nest each year with her mate, reports the Associated Press—an appropriate tradition for a bird who’s become a tradition of her own.
As the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service notes on its blog, Wisdom has long impressed wildlife specialists, who were “abuzz” with the news that she is incubating a new chick. Wisdom is a Laysan albatross, a breed known for its graceful soar and its wide travels—as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology writes, they can soar hundreds of miles per day. The birds breed at 16 sites throughout the Hawaiian Islands and range from the Bering Sea all the way down to South America.
Albatrosses are creatures of habit: Not only do they like to mate in the same place, but they like to do it with the same mate over time. Appropriately, Wisdom’s current mate has been named Akeakamai, or “lover of wisdom.” She’s outlived at least one mate, say wildlife officials.
The island is home to the world’s largest albatross colony, writes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and hundreds of thousands come there to mate and nest each year. Unfortunately, their diet there includes plenty of plastic. As Jennifer Hackett writes for NYU’s ScienceLine, the island is covered with debris that’s too expensive and extensive to ever clean up. As a result, the birds eat plenty of it—and die with stomachs full of people’s trash.
Wisdom, whose other babies have graced the pages of Smithsonian.com over the years, is a prolific mama. So far, scientists think she’s seen a minimum of 37 chicks come into being—at least nine since 2006. But it was far from certain she’d mate again this year. Though albatrosses never go through menopause, they do often take years off to molt.
Now that there’s a baby on the way, Wisdom will switch off parenting duties with Akeakamai while the egg incubates. Meanwhile, wildlife officials and the world will watch—and marvel at the amazing feat of a senior citizen who hasn’t yet given up the hard work of bringing life into the world.