World's Oldest Albatross On Record Lays Egg At 67

Wisdom, the world's oldest known wild bird is seen here incubating her newest egg in December 2014. Photo by Greg Joder/Flickr

Madison Dapcevich 04 Jan 2018, 23:11

When you're the oldest bird on record, your birth announcement makes international headlines.

At 67, Wisdom the albatross has mothered between 30 and 35 chicks so far. The US Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed last month that she and her mate Akeakamai, Hawaiian for "lover of wisdom", were expecting.

"We thought that maybe she would take the year off because she has raised nine chicks since 2006," said Kate Toniolo, deputy superintendent for the marine national monument, in an interview with IFLScience. 

Biologist Chandler Robbins first banded Wisdom on December 10, 1956, on the Midway Atoll. It wasn't until 46 years later in 2002 that he rediscovered her.

"She's the oldest bird on record and that's just one of those things where we are in uncharted territory," said Toniolo. "There is a good chance there could be someone older, but we just don't know."

Each year, Wisdom and her mate return to the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument at Hawaii's Midway Atoll to nest and raise their offspring.

In spite of her old age, Wisdom faces unnatural challenges that threaten the Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) species as a whole. Primarily feeding on squid or schooling fish, the seafaring bird has been known to follow ships during a 16,000-kilometer (10,000-mile) single journey, picking up trash and garbage along the way.

"Every single bird has been fed plastic," said Toniolo. "None of them escape it."

To combat the issue, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has started a unique educational program that distributes albatross bolus to school children. Much like an owl pellet, a bolus is the indigestible material thrown up by a juvenile chick. By dissecting the bolus, students can see first-hand exactly how much plastic is regurgitated.

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Albatross chicks usually regurgitate a bolus (pictured here) before they fledge. Photo by Amy Oliffe/USFWS.

Paired with rising sea levels, erratic weather patterns, and an increase in major storms from climate change, the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the Laysan as near-threatened.

"Midway is home to 70 percent of the Laysan and, between the Laysan and Black-footed albatrosses, it is also the largest albatross colony in the world," said Toniolo to IFLScience. "These places are remote. If something happens and we were to lose these islands, it would have a devastating impact on the global population."

In the wild, Laysan albatrosses typically live up to 50 years, but Wisdom is hardier than most. And unlike many birds at the Midway Atoll, both Wisdom and her chick survived the 2011 tsunami.

"Wisdom is amazing. We get very excited every year when she comes back," said Toniolo. "She is a wonderful ambassador to Laysan albatrosses as a whole, as well as island ecosystems around the world."

For some more fun, check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology live feed to see how male Laysan use their groovy dance moves to attract a future mate.

[H/T: National Geographic]

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