In the same year Elvis Presley first hit the U.S. charts, one particular Laysan albatross was observed for the first time. Now, 62 years later, that bird is still rocking and rolling out eggs. Wisdom, as she is named, recently hatched a chick for the sixth year in a row.
“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,” said Bruce Peterjohn, chief of the North American Bird Banding Program at the U.S. Geological Survey.
The new chick joins an estimated 30 or more albatross hatched by Wisdom. Albatross lay one egg per year. Incubating that egg and raising the chick then takes most of a year. The birds then sometimes take a year off.
Wisdom, the oldest known wild bird, may be older than 62. Biologist Chandler Robbins first found Wisdom in 1956 while she was incubating one of her many eggs. She had to be at least five years old to reproduce, but many albatross don’t lay their first egg until they are eight or nine.
Robbins gave Wisdom her first leg band to aid in tracking her. Since that time, bell-bottoms and beehive hairdos have come and gone, but Wisdom has kept the same style. She is now on her fifth leg band.
Wisdom escaped the 2011 Tohoku tsunami that devastated Japan and killed many of her fellow seabirds as it inundated Pacific islands. However, there is an even greater threat to Wisdom and other seabirds.
For thousands of years, the islands where albatross and other seabirds nest were free from land-lubber predators. However, human explorers brought rats, cats, pigs, dogs and other creatures to remote islands. The introduced predators have made a meal of many of Wisdom’s peers. Nineteen of the 21 species of albatross are threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Albatross are also at risk from the tremendous amount of floating plastic garbage that sails the waves. Seabirds mistake the plastic for food and give it to their chicks to eat. The plastic doesn’t kill them directly, but instead fills up their stomachs and reduces space for food and water.
Wisdom (left) and her mate incubate their egg. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Pacific)
Wisdom’s mate tends to his newly hatched chick just hours after it hatches on Sunday morning, February 3, 2013 (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Pacific)