When biologist Chandler Robbins first tagged Wisdom the Laysan albatross in 1956, he probably had no idea that the oceanic bird would long outlive him. But here we are in the year 2021, and Wisdom is still alive and mating. In fact, Wisdom has just hatched another chick at the tender age of 70.
Within the international bird community, Wisdom is regarded as the “oldest known wild bird in history,” having outlived several mating partners and the biologist who first placed a band on her all those years ago. In total, it is believed that the Laysan albatross has hatched more than 35 chicks in her life, all of which were born at the Midway Atoll national wildlife refuge in the North Pacific, where more than a million albatross return to nest each year.
“Because she only nests every two years, the international bird community looks forward to seeing if she’s been able to come back and nest,” said Sean Dooley, national public affairs manager for BirdLife Australia. “The odds are stacked against them so much, whenever it happens it’s always a cause for celebration.”
Although it may seem odd that a bird can continue to be productive right up to old age, the reality is that only primates and whales have an extended lifespan after fertility.
“To humans, it seems remarkable but we’re still determining whether this is par for the course for these magnificent birds,” said Dooley. “In the bird world the other famously long-lived birds are the parrots, especially cockatoos. In captivity, there have been cockatoos getting on towards 100. Eighty or 90 years have been recorded of cockatoos in captivity. Even in the wild, they’d be expected to have a natural lifespan of at least 30 to 40 years old, if not older.”