Old Laysan Albatross

Midway Wildlife Refuge: World’s Oldest known Bird has a Chick

Wisdom, a Laysan albatross, at the grand age of 70 has hatched a chick.
She is thought to be the oldest wild bird, known in history, and has outlived all her previous mates, and the ornithologist Chandler Robbins, who first caught and banded her back on December 10th, 1956.

Wisdom, hatched the chick in a national wildlife refuge, on the North Pacific atoll of Midway, on February 1st. The Midway Atoll is home to more than a million albatross that return to nest there every year, in January.

Wisdom ’s long term partner, Akeakamai, who she has been paired with since 2010 according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, was the father of chick. The Fish & Wildlife Service also said that Wisdom had found her partner through an elaborate mating ritual called a “dance party”, after she lost her previous partner.

In these “dance parties”, albatross look for a bird to dip, bow, and preen with in unison, and once a pair are bonded, they are bonded for life. It will take them another three or four years before they can hatch their first chick.

USFWS biologists believe that Wisdom had previous mates, and said that albatross mate for life but will find another partner, if they outlive their first partner. In her long life, its thought Wisdom has hatched over 30 chicks.

Prior to encountering Wisdom, most ornithologists believed that Laysan albatross usually lived to be around 30 to 40 years old, but she has surprised them by outliving her partners and hatching an egg in her 70s.

Why Wisdom’s Chick and the Laysan Albatross population on Midway is threatened

The Laysan Albatross

The Laysan Albatross is one of the most wondrous sights to behold in the north Pacific. This majestic bird glides gracefully and effortlessly through the wind and waves. These birds travel hundreds of miles each day with a few flaps of their wings. They nest on tropical islands in the mid Pacific, but they range as far as the Aleutian Islands in the far north, California or Japan to feed. The Laysan Albatross population faces threats from long-line fishing, plastic waste in the ocean, and predation by cats, dogs and rats.

On Midway Atoll they face the threat of lead pollution, lead paint kills thousands of Laysan albatross every year on Midway, threatening the existence of the entire population. There the Laysan albatross, leads a precarious existence and has been listed as being vulnerable to extinction, and many Laysan chicks reared in nests near the 90 or so buildings, left behind by the US Navy after WWII, ingest lead-based paint, used to camouflage the buildings. This causes extremely high lead concentrations in their blood, leading to severe neurological disorders, and death.

Up to 10,000 chicks, or 5% of the total hatched chick population, may be killed yearly by being exposed to lead paint flaking off the ruined US Navy buildings, and it’s of vital concern that the US government addresses the problem to protect this rare species.

The Laysan Albatross – The Identifying Features

An adult Laysan albatross is around 33 inches long and has a wing span of approximately 78 to 80 inches. A male weighs between 5 to 9 pounds, and males are noticeably larger than females, which weigh around 4 to 8 pounds.

Laysans have black-grey upper wings, back and tail, and its head, breast and under carriage are white. Its eyes have a smear of black. Also, it has a pink bill with a black-grey tip. Juveniles have grey bills and a dark upper tail. Laysans do not have breeding or seasonal plumage.