Wisdom the Laysan albatross, the world’s oldest known bird, returned to her breeding ground on November 24 to find that her mate of 60 years was not there waiting for her. Typically, males return to the nesting sites earlier than females. This is now the second year in a row that her mate has not been there to greet her, increasing suspicions that he may have passed away.
Wisdom is at least 71 years old, and these majestic birds almost never breed until the age of 5. The oldest wild bird on record was first banded by biologist Chandler Robbins on December 10, 1956, on the Midway Atoll when she already had laid an egg. Her contribution to science and the conservation of her species is invaluable: it is estimated that she has laid between 30-36 eggs in her lifetime, as these albatrosses typically breed every other year. Wisdom was even recorded laying an egg at the age of 70.
“Each year that Wisdom returns, we learn more about how long seabirds can live and raise chicks,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Dr Beth Flint in a statement last year. “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.”
These albatrosses return to the Midway Atoll in November to dance with and find a mate, and the eggs are laid in early December. They then have a 65-day incubation period, with most chicks hatching in January or February of the following year. Akeakamai, Wisdom’s mate, has not been seen on the Midway Atoll for the last two breeding seasons.
The Midway Atoll is a vitally important habitat for albatrosses and millions of other seabirds, but the threats facing this species are only growing. The threat of climate change has led more black-browed albatross to divorce, while one unfortunate bird died after trying to eat a shark. Whatever has happened to Akeakamai, his legacy will continue through the lives of his and Wisdom's numerous chicks.