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Oldest Known Wild Bird Is a Mother Again

A Laysan albatross named Wisdom, The oldest known wild bird in the United States.
No quit in this one. She's a new mother once again, seen above with her chick. (Image credit: John Klavitter/ USFWS.)

The oldest known wild bird in the United States isn't ready to strut into retirement just yet. She's a mother — again.

The bird, a Laysan albatross named Wisdom, was spotted a few weeks ago with a chick at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the North Pacific Ocean, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced yesterday (March 8). She's about 60 years old.

"She looks great," said Bruce Peterjohn, head of the bird banding program at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Laurel, Md. "And she is now the oldest wild bird documented in the 90-year history of our USGS-FWS and Canadian bird banding program. To know that she can still successfully raise young at age 60-plus, that is beyond words."

Wisdom was first banded in 1956 as she incubated an egg, and she was estimated to be at least 5 years old then. This is the earliest age at which these birds breed, though they more typically breed at 8 or 9 after an involved courtship lasting several years. 

"While the process of banding a bird has not changed greatly during the past century, the information provided by birds marked with a simple numbered metal band has transformed our knowledge of birds," Peterjohn said in a statement.

Wisdom, Peterjohn said, has likely raised at least 30 to 35 chicks during her breeding life, though the number may well be higher because experienced parents tend to be better parents than younger breeders.  An albatross will lay only one egg a year, but it takes much of a year to incubate and raise the chick, with both parents — life-partners — sharing the work.

After years in which they have successfully raised chicks, the parents may take the occasional next year off from parenting. Wisdom also nested in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010, said John Klavitter, the FWS biologist that spotted Wisdom with her newest chick.

Peterjohn noted that Wisdom's remarkable record is just one example of the valuable data provided by bird banding. In addition to establishing longevity records for birds, banding documents migratory patterns, provides critical harvest and survival information used to manage populations of migratory game birds, and supports research activities on many issues from toxicology to disease transmission and behavior.

Live Science Staff
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