UPDATE: I mistakenly used last year’s article instead of this year’s. The fact is that, according to EarthSky, Wisdom produced another chick in early February of this year—at age 63! Here’s the photo of her with her offspring:
She looks great for an old bird, doesn’t she?
h/t to Reader Grania, who corrected me and also put the link to this photo in the comments.
“Wisdom” is not only the oldest living wild bird known to humans, but according to the Washington Post, she just gave birth to a single chick that hatched Sunday on the island where she lives: the Midway Atoll.
Her age is known because birds on the island have been tagged repeatedly (the tags tend to fall off after a few decades, and Wisdom has been tagged six times, with each new tag replacing a still-extant old one).
Wisdom, a Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) is one amazing bird:
Wisdom has raised chicks five times since 2006, and as many as 35 in her lifetime. Just as astonishing, she has likely flown up to 3 million miles since she was first tagged at Midway Atoll at the end of the Hawaiian Island chain in 1956, according to scientists who have tracked her at the U.S. Geological Survey. That’s “4 to 6 trips from the Earth to the Moon and back again with plenty of miles to spare,” the USGS said in an enthusiastic announcement Tuesday.
“It blows us away that this is a 62-year-old bird and she keeps laying eggs and raising chicks,” said Bruce Peterjohn, chief of the Bird Banding Laboratory at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel.
Here she is, a cougar bird with her much younger mate:
Although parrots have lived the longest in captivity, no wild bird is known to be older than Wisdom. That, of course, could simply reflect a paucity of tagged parrots—or other birds that might live a long time. But Wisdom beat out her closest rival a few years ago.
Albatrosses aren’t the world’s largest birds, or the oldest — parrots in captivity have lived to age 80, Peterjohn said. But they are easily the largest seabird, with wingspans as wide as eight feet, “like a sea gull on steroids,” Peterjohn said, dwarfing the average gray gulls that are known to roam beaches stealing french fries.
They’re the oldest known bird in the wild. Wisdom edged out the second oldest known albatross to reproduce, a 61-year-old named Grandma, of the Northern Royal species, Peterjohn said. But Grandma hasn’t been seen at her nesting ground at Taiaroa Head, New Zealand, in three years and is presumed dead.
Albatrosses mate for life, suggesting that Wisdom probably had to find a new, younger mate maybe twice down the line.
There are simply not enough good data to determine whether Wisdom is of extraordinary longevity or just average. As one researcher said, “half the birds could be 60 years old. . . These birds could be much older than we think.”