Almost every year for six decades, Wisdom the albatross has laid an egg at her home in the Midway Atoll. On February 16, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that Wisdom just hatched another chick.
Wisdom's fertility is significant for two reasons, explains Deisha Norwood, deputy refuge manager at the U.S. Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.
As the oldest known wild bird, Wisdom is giving scientists valuable insights into reproduction in older animals. And since Laysan albatross only lay at most one egg per year, even a single hatchling goes toward preserving the species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the Laysan as near threatened with extinction.
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“It’s always very exciting for Wisdom to have another chick," Norwood says. "It’s remarkable for her to be producing young at her age, and she seems to be really good at it."
On December 10, 1956, biologist Chandler Robbins banded an ordinary-looking Laysan albatross in what's now the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. The bird wasn’t seen until 46 years later, in 2002, when Robbins happened to recapture the bird again.
Her seemingly advanced age and good health earned her the name Wisdom. (Like Wisdom, Robbins has stayed active into his old age—now 98, he still works with birds at Maryland's Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.)
Once an albatross reaches adulthood, it’s hard to determine exactly how old they are. Robbins knew that Wisdom was a fully mature adult in 1956—which means she's at least 66 years old today.
Like all albatrosses, Wisdom and her mate, Akeakamai, return to the same spot every year to renew their bond. It’s likely the same place where Wisdom herself hatched many decades ago.
Albatross mate for life, although they will find a new partner if one dies—Wisdom has outlived several males. Since 2006, Wisdom and Akeakamai have raised several chicks and Wisdom is believed to have raised anywhere from 30 to 35 chicks over her lifetime.
The unnamed chick hatched about two months after Wisdom and her mate began incubating the egg.
PHOTOGRAPH BY NAOMI BLINICK, USFWS VOLUNTEER
Not only is she still having babies, she's more fertile than most: She also had a chick in 2015, even though most albatross only lay eggs every other year.
“It’s not unheard of to lay an egg two years in a row, but it is rare,” Norwood says.
Scientists have already banded Wisdom's newest offspring, but have yet to name the small gray fluffball. Wisdom and Akeakamai are taking turns guarding the newborn and flying out to sea to find food for themselves and for their baby.
They will continue to return to the nest until June or July, when the chick is ready to fend for itself.
Will Wisdom be a mom again in 2018? Only time will tell.
Header Image: Wisdom the albatross watches over her chick recently at the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. PHOTOGRAPH BY NAOMI BLINICK, USFWS VOLUNTEER