11 March 2011 – A few weeks ago, the oldest known wild bird in the Northern Hemisphere was spotted at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in Hawaii. The bird, a female Laysan Albatross named Wisdom, is at least 60 years old; she is also a new mother.
Wisdom was spotted with her chick a few weeks ago by John Klavitter, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist and the deputy manager of the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. She has sported and worn out five bird bands since she was first banded by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientist Chandler Robbins in 1956. At the time, he estimated the albatross to be about five years old. Robbins rediscovered Wisdom in 2001, when she was at least 50.
“She looks great,” said Bruce Peterjohn, the chief of the North American Bird Banding Program at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland. “And she is now the oldest wild bird documented in the 90-year history of our USGS Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian bird banding program,” he added. “To know that she can still successfully raise young at age 60-plus, that is beyond words. 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.”
Wisdom, Peterjohn said, has likely raised at least 30 to 35 chicks during her breeding life. Almost as amazing as being a parent at 60 is the number of miles she has likely flown. Adult birds average about 50,000 miles annually, so Wisdom has flown at least two to three million miles since she was first banded. That’s the equivalent of four to six trips from earth to the moon and back again, with plenty of miles to spare.