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Wisdom, the Laysan albatross, has outlived several mating partners and even the biologist who first tagged her in 1956

By Diane Herbst
March 30, 2021 03:55 PM
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Wisdom with her chick in February 2021
Wisdom and her chick
| Credit: Jon Brack/Friends of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

In late November, someone spotted an albatross sitting atop an egg she'd laid on a tiny North Pacific island, just one bird among the millions that return to the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge each year to reunite with their mates.

But this particular white Layan albatross named Wisdom isn't just any bird — she is at least 70 years old and the oldest known wild bird in the world, a creature who has even outlived the biologist who first identified and tagged her in 1956.

And on February 1 of this year, Wisdom hatched yet another tiny chick; according to the National Audubon Society, it is likely her 39th offspring.

"Each year that Wisdom returns (to Midway Atoll), we learn more about how long seabirds can live and raise chicks," said Beth Flint, the supervisory wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) at the Pacific Remote Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, in the organization's article.

Wisdom with her chick in February 2021
Wisdom and her chick
| Credit: Jon Brack/Friends of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

"Her return not only inspires bird lovers everywhere," Flint said, "but helps us better understand how we can protect these graceful seabirds and the habitat they need to survive into the future."

Wisdom and her current mate, Akeakamai, have been meeting on Midway Atoll to hatch and raise chicks together since at least 2006, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

"We believe Wisdom has had other mates," Flint said.  "Though albatross mate for life, they may find new partners if necessary — for example, if they outlive their first mate."

Wisdom with her chick in January 2021
Credit: Jon Brack/Friends of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

Wisdom and Akeakami, like most pairs of albatrosses, return nearly every year to the same nest site, according to the USFWS

Once an egg is laid, the mates take turns incubating the egg and then caring for their newborn once the egg hatches. The pairs remain on Midway Atoll for seven months to tend to their chicks before going out to sea and returning once again. 

Wisdom with her chick in January 2021
Credit: Jon Brack/Friends of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

The USFWS also said that that albatrosses begin finding mates around the age of five "through practicing elaborate courtship dances containing dozens of ritualized movements."

Usually, albatrosses lay one egg, then take a year off between laying another, according to the USFWS. 

Wisdom with her chick in January 2021
Credit: Jon Brack/Friends of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

While Audubon thinks Wisdom's chick hatched this year could be number 39, the wildlife agency estimates she's hatched at least 30–36 chicks. 

Last year upon finding Wisdom had returned once again, the USFWS found it an uplifting event in a year filled with bad news, writing on medium: "Surely as the sun will set and rise each day, albatross will return to their home on Midway Atoll ... In 2020, as we look for hope and inspiration, Wisdom serves as a reminder of the beauty and wonder that still surround us."