At age 62, albatross hatches a chick

Feb 08, 2013 by Paul Rogers

The world's oldest-known wild bird-a 62-year-old albatross on Midway Atoll in the Pacific Ocean-is also a new mother.

The bird, a Laysan whom have named Wisdom, hatched a chick this week, her sixth in the past six years.

"If she were human, she would be eligible for Medicare in a couple of years, yet she is still regularly raising young and annually circumnavigating the ," said Bruce Peterjohn, chief of the North American bird banding program at the U.S. Geological Survey. "Simply incredible."

The chick, which scientists describe as healthy, hatched Sunday.

The mother, by now an old pro at the finer points of the birds and the bees, received her first identification band during the Eisenhower administration, in 1956. Back then, USGS scientist Chandler Robbins estimated she was 5 years old.

Since then, she has worn out five ID bands, returning year after year to lay an egg at Midway, a remote island northeast of Hawaii that was the site of a famous 1942 naval battle. Today, it's a U.S. national wildlife refuge where hundreds of thousands of albatrosses nest every year.

Albatrosses lay only one egg a year. Legendary long-distance marvels of the , they fly thousands of miles across the ocean, gliding on wind currents with their large wings. They feed on fish, and other marine life.

Researchers estimate that if Wisdom flew typical routes, she quite probably has traveled 50,000 miles a year as an adult. That's at least 2 million to 3 million miles since she was first banded, the equivalent of four to six trips from Earth to the moon and back.

Most Laysan albatrosses live between 12 and 40 years, although some have been documented surviving into their 50s. About 70 percent of the bird's nests on Midway. Researchers estimate that Wisdom has hatched up to 35 chicks in the past half-century.

As word has gotten out about her latest bundle of joy, scientists and birding enthusiasts are astounded.

"It's exciting," said Aimee Greenebaum, associate curator of aviculture at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. "If they are still being able to breed at 62, that's amazing. And it makes it more exciting to want to help conserve this fascinating species."

The aquarium, home to a Laysan albatross named Makana who was brought in with an injured wing, is believed to be the only aquarium in the world displaying one. In exhibits, aquarium employees highlight threats to albatrosses. They include plastic debris in the ocean, which the birds often ingest, sometimes fatally.

"People are going to say 'My gosh, a grandma is having babies,'" said aquarium spokesman Ken Peterson. "That's very cool. It can help connect people more closely with animals. When people have emotional bonds with animals, they care about them more.

"We have no way of knowing if Makana might be one of her offspring," he added. "She was born on Midway. Who knows?"

Explore further: Pollen on birds shows feeding grounds

5 /5 (2 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Tsunami killed thousands of seabirds at Midway

Mar 16, 2011

(AP) -- Thousands of seabirds were killed when the tsunami generated by last week's massive earthquake off Japan flooded Midway, a remote atoll northwest of the main Hawaiian islands, a federal wildlife official ...

New models may reduce seabird bycatch

Apr 04, 2011

Tens of thousands of albatrosses and other far-ranging seabirds are killed each year after they become caught in longline fishing gear. Innovative new models developed by a Duke University-led research team may help reduce ...

Researcher finds Laysan albatross employs 'dual mommies'

May 28, 2008

What's a girl to do if there's a shortage of males and she needs help raising a family? The Laysan albatross employs a strategy called reciprocity, where unrelated females pair together and take turns raising offspring.

Recommended for you

Calcium and reproduction go together

6 hours ago

Everyone's heard of the birds and the bees. But that old expression leaves out the flowers that are being fertilized. The fertilization process for flowering plants is particularly complex and requires extensive communication ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ScooterG
1 / 5 (3) Feb 08, 2013
No mention of global warming...that's odd.