Officials at the United States Fish and Wildlife Service reported that the world's oldest living wild bird named Wisdom is back on American soil where she is expected to lay an egg at the ripe age of 64 years old.
The Laysan albatross was spotted with her mate at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge within Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaii on Nov. 19. The refuge is known as the world's biggest albatross nesting colony, experts said, and is located about 1500 miles north-west of Hawaii.
Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge Manager Dan Clark said [pdf] that the seabird population has dropped to about 70 percent since the 1950s, and that Wisdom has become a symbol of inspiration and hope. Clark explained that the refuge is part of Wisdom's fate and that they are glad to see her return.
Wisdom was first tagged in 1956 by ornithologist Chandler Robbins, and has since then laid and raised 36 chicks. Laysan albatrosses do not return to breed after they are five years old, and many birds that are tagged lose their bands before they can be replaced. Experts were able to continuously replace Wisdom's bands because of meticulous record-keeping.
Laysan albatrosses usually lay one egg a year, and they spend six months taking care of their birdlings. These birds have about a seven-foot-wingspan which helps them travel hundreds of miles out into the sea. Experts said Wisdom may have traveled more than six million ocean miles during her lifetime.
Aside from Wisdom, there is another albatross bird that was known to have laid an egg during old age. Grandma, a Northern Royal albatross, laid an egg at the age of 61 years old at a nesting area at Taiaroa Head in New Zealand. However, Grandma has not been seen and experts presume that she has died.
Meanwhile, 19 of 21 albatross species are dangerously close to extinction, scientists said. Their demise might be linked to human activity.
Bruce Peterjohn of the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center warned that something could happen to Wisdom so bird watchers should keep an eye out on Wisdom to know when she comes back.
"Something could happen and they could find her dead on Midway. Someday she's going to fly off the island some spring and never come back," added Peterjohn.
Photo: USFWS - Pacific Region | Flickr