Almost the entire population of wild Laysan albatross – which is estimated to be around 2.5 million – call the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands home. Among them sits one bird whose lifetime achievements just keep racking up. As the oldest wild bird on record, an albatross named Wisdom stunned her fans three years ago as she casually raised her latest brood at the tender age of 67. Now, she’s topping her own record by welcoming a new chick at 70, making her the mother of around 30 to 36 throughout her lifetime.
Biologist Chandler Robbins first banded Wisdom on December 10, 1956, on the Midway Atoll. In 2002, 46 years later, he rediscovered her. Wisdom is believed to have returned to the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument at Hawaii's Midway Atoll to nest and raise offspring with her mate Akeakamai – Hawaiian for "lover of wisdom" – since at least 2012, when Akeakamai was first banded
“At least 70 years old, we believe Wisdom has had other mates,” said US Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Dr Beth Flint in a statement. “Though albatross mate for life, they may find new partners if necessary – for example if they outlive their first mate.”
In the wild, Laysan albatrosses typically live up to 50 years, but Wisdom is evidently hardier than most, beating the average by two decades. She and an earlier chick even survived a tsunami at the Midway Atoll back in 2011, a fate shared by few of the chicks in the Atoll when it hit. That same chick was later spotted in 2018 just a few feet away from Wisdom’s nest – apparently, this kind of family reunion is common among Laysan albatrosses, say the US Fish and Wildlife Service: Pacific Islands.
This year, Wisdom hatched her latest chick on February 1. These baby birds take around two months to incubate, after which they bust out of their shell with the assistance of a temporary egg tooth. The process is known as pipping and zipping, as in the early stages the chick can be heard peeping inside the egg and sometimes even communicating with their parents. The next step sees them “unzipping” the egg with their special tooth. Parents will sometimes come to the rescue for exhausted chicks who are almost free of their shell
“Each year that Wisdom returns, we learn more about how long seabirds can live and raise chicks,” continued Flint. “Her return not only inspires bird lovers everywhere, but helps us better understand how we can protect these graceful seabirds and the habitat they need to survive into the future.”