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Oldest Known Wild Bird Hatches Healthy Chick

After returning from foraging at sea on November 29, 2012, Wisdom (left) attempts to nudge her mate off the nest for her turn at incubating the couple's egg.
After returning from foraging at sea on November 29, 2012, Wisdom (left) attempts to nudge her mate off the nest for her turn at incubating the couple's egg. (Image credit: Pete Leary/USFWS)

The oldest known wild bird in the United States has hatched a chick — for the sixth year in a row.

The Laysan albatross named Wisdom, thought to be at least 62 years old, hatched a healthy-looking chick on Sunday (Feb. 3), according to a statement from the U.S. Department of the Interior. Wisdom and her young chick inhabit Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), which is famous for its Laysan albatross population.

"Everyone continues to be inspired by Wisdom as a symbol of hope for her species," said Doug Staller, the Fish and Wildlife Service superintendent for the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, which encompasses Midway Atoll NWR.

Wisdom's mate tends to his newly hatched chick just hours after it hatches on Sunday (Feb. 3) on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Wisdom was away feeding at sea. (Image credit: Pete Leary/USFWS)

Wisdom was first banded in 1956 while incubating an egg; bands are attached to the legs of birds to help scientists track and study them. At the time, she was estimated to be at least 5 years old. This is the youngest these birds breed, though they more typically mate at age 8 or 9 after an involved courtship lasting several years. So she may be even older than 62, and is still breeding, according to the release.

"As Wisdom rewrites the record books, she provides new insights into the remarkable biology of seabirds," said Bruce Peterjohn, head of the bird banding program at the U.S. Geological Survey, in the statement. "If she were human, she would be eligible for Medicare in a couple years yet she is still regularly raising young and annually circumnavigating the Pacific Ocean. Simply incredible."

The bird has likely hatched 30 to 35 chicks in her long life, although that number might be higher, Peterjohn said in the release. Laysan albatross have a wingspan of 6 feet (2 meters) and fly about 50,000 miles a year as adults. This means Wisdom has flown at least 2 million to 3 million miles (3 million to 5 million kilometers) since being banded, according to the statement.  That's the same distance as up to six trips from the Earth to the moon and back.

All but two of the 21 species of albatross are threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Wisdom has seen a lot in her day, and always survived to continue propagating her species. In 2011, she survived the 5-foot (1.5 meters) tsunami the hit Midway after Japan's 9.0-magnitude earthquake. The tsunami killed an estimated 2,000 adult albatrosses and about 110,000 chicks in the wildlife refuge. Midway lies close to the northwestern end of the Hawaiian Islands, about one-third of the way between Honolulu and Tokyo. The atoll is an unincorporated U.S. territory.

Reach Douglas Main at dmain@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @Douglas_Main. Follow OurAmazingPlanet on Twitter @OAPlanet. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

Douglas Main
Douglas Main loves the weird and wonderful world of science, digging into amazing Planet Earth discoveries and wacky animal findings (from marsupials mating themselves to death to zombie worms to tear-drinking butterflies) for Live Science. Follow Doug on Google+.