Wis­dom, the old­est known al­ba­tross, is a mother again at 68

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Vi­vian Ho

Wis­dom, a 68-year-old Laysan al­ba­tross be­lieved to be the world’s old­est known wild bird, has re­turned to her home at the Mid­way Atoll na­tional wildlife refuge for yet an­other win­ter – and laid yet an­other egg to add to the brood she has built up over an im­pres­sive life­time.

Bi­ol­o­gists from the US Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice think Wis­dom has given birth and raised as many as 36 chicks. Should her lat­est egg with her long-term mate, Akeaka­mai, hatch and fledge, it will be her 37th.

Mon­i­tor­ing of Wis­dom be­gan in 1956, when it was es­ti­mated she was about five years old.

Al­ba­trosses are known for their long life spans and of­ten out­live their re­searchers – Rob­bins died in 2017 at the age 98 – but what makes Wis­dom unique is that re­searchers have been able to mon­i­tor her habits for so long. She may or may not be the old­est wild bird, but she is the old­est known wild bird, and her habits have been lov­ingly doc­u­mented by the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice over so­cial me­dia.

To a hu­man, 68 years old may seem a rather un­likely age at which to still be lay­ing eggs, but Wis­dom and the other few doc­u­mented ex­am­ples of al­ba­trosses in their 50s and 60s that do not ap­pear to have trou­ble breed­ing at that age show the sit­u­a­tion may be dif­fer­ent for birds, said Beth Flint, a USFWS bi­ol­o­gist.

Like many al­ba­trosses, Wis­dom re­turns nearly ev­ery year to the place where she was born for nest­ing and mat­ing. Mid­way Atoll, an is­land be­long­ing to the US that was the site of the de­ci­sive Bat­tle of Mid­way dur­ing the sec­ond world war, is mostly un­in­hab­ited by hu­mans. But in win­ter, more than 1m Laysan al­ba­trosses flock to the beaches to nest.

Al­ba­trosses spend 90% of their lives at sea, soar­ing over the Pa­cific Ocean and feed­ing on squid and fish eggs. The USFWS es­ti­mates Wis­dom has clocked more than 6m miles in her trav­els.

Al­ba­trosses form bonds with their mates for life, but re­searchers first noted Wis­dom’s re­la­tion­ship with Akeaka­mai in 2006.

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