For this elder albatross — and new mother — the name “Wisdom” is well-earned.
At 75 years old (at least), she may be no spring chicken, but this Laysan albatross of the north Pacific has lived through it all, setting the record as the world’s oldest known wild bird.
And recently, she set an even more remarkable benchmark, becoming also the world’s oldest known bird to hatch a healthy chick.
“Cute baby alert! Wisdom’s chick has hatched!!!,” the US Fish and Wildlife Service for the Pacific region tweeted last month, alongside an image of the proud mom tending to her newborn.
The hatchling debuted Feb. 1 at the Midway Atoll, a national wildlife refuge about 900 miles north-west of Hawaii, as the albatross flies. The baby’s father is Wisdom’s long-term partner Akeakamai, together since 2010 — when the matriarch was around 65 years old.
“We believe Wisdom has had other mates,” wrote US Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Dr. Beth Flint, in an article published on the agency’s Medium site. In fact, Flint and her colleagues estimate that Wisdom has spawned a minimum of 30 to 36 chicks. “Though albatross mate for life, they may find new partners if necessary — for example if they outlive their first mate.”
That’s also an issue for the albatross researchers, who have been known to pass away before their subject of interest. Such was the case with biologist Chandler Robbins, who first tagged Wisdom in 1956, and died in 2017, according to National Geographic.
After surviving countless storms and tsunamis, habitat loss and climate change, Wisdom finally earned her affectionate moniker in 2002, when she was rediscovered by Robbins, — at which point they realized that she had become the world’s oldest tracked wild bird, now at least 75, scientists estimate.
Wisdom has since become a symbol of the threat that many seafaring bird species face. Laysan albatross have been identified as “near-threatened” by the International Union for Conservation, but several other albatross species are considered critically vulnerable or endangered.
Despite threats to the Laysan albatross, researchers say the achievement is important for other reasons.
“She’s a bird with a life span comparable to a human,” said Flint, for National Geographic in January. Indeed, Cornell’s AlbatrossCam based on Kauai, which broadcast between 2014 and 2018, garnered diverse viewers from some 190 countries. “I think her greatest contribution is the interest she stimulates in folks. She’s also drawing more people into the sciences.”