A 64-year-old albatross has laid an egg. Tagged by scientists in 1956, the albatross named Wisdom is the oldest tracked bird that is going to experience motherhood at such an advanced age.
The world’s oldest-known tagged bird is about to become a mother. The albatross was one of the first birds in the wild to be fitted with a serialized tracking band on the foot. The senior bird has outlived most of the other birds in her species, but her becoming a mother at such an advanced age is one of the most astounding feats, admit scientists.
The 64-year-old Wisdom was back on American soil after spending an entire year at sea. She belongs to the sub-species referred to as Laysan albatross. Wisdom was spotted on Nov. 19, 2015, among the dunes of the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, reported Here and Now. Thereafter the female albatross was spotted on numerous occasions with her current mate she found in 2012. According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pacific Region, Wisdom has laid an egg, making her not only the oldest tagged bird, but also the oldest to experience motherhood, shared Bret Wolfe, deputy refuge manager, said in a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) blog post,
“Wisdom left soon after mating but we expect her back any day now to lay her egg. It is very humbling to think that she has been visiting Midway for at least 64 years.”
Midway Atoll is home and nesting ground to the world’s largest albatross colony. Though there are 22 sub-species of albatross, it is the Laysan albatross population that predominantly prefers the region. Seventy percent of the world’s Laysan albatross population is believed to come to the region to lay eggs and nurture the young ones once they hatch.
The 64-year-old albatross’ case is quite unique. Similar to Emperor penguins, Laysan albatrosses typically mate for life. If one of the mates dies, the albatross doesn’t engage with anyone else and lives a life of solitude. However, in the case of Wisdom, it is quite likely she has had more than one mate, reasoned the researchers based on the unusually large brood the female albatross has spawned over the years. To date, Wisdom is believed to have laid and raised as many as 36 chicks.
The researchers are confident though that Wisdom must have been quite loyal, and only the death of a mate might have forced her to find another one. Though it is quite odd and goes against the typical behavior of a Laysan albatross, Wisdom has been instrumental in ensuring the species survives. The Laysan albatross is one of the 19 species of the bird that are threatened by extinction, reported UPI.
Owing to extensive fishing, using large trawlers and commercial fishing nets, hundreds of thousands of birds have been killed to date. The driftnet fishing technique is the most dangerous to albatross. However, stricter regulations and safer fishing practices have lowered the casualty rates and helped albatross populations stabilize, shared Dan Clark, manager of the refuge, which has welcomed Wisdom:
“In the face of dramatic seabird population decreases worldwide — 70 percent drop since the 1950’s when Wisdom was first banded — Wisdom has become a symbol of hope and inspiration”
Scientists have never observed such a phenomenon, and Wisdom is altering the perception about what constitutes “advanced age” for an albatross. Though 64 is certainly a rarity, Wisdom might not be able to keep up the practice for long, said Bruce Peterjohn, chief of the U.S. Bird Banding Laboratory at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland,
“She lays her eggs and raises her chicks. Common sense says at some point she would become too old for this.”
This is especially true because Laysan albatrosses usually lay just a single egg a year and then spend more 130 days incubating it. Thereafter comes the mothering part, which can last for six months at a stretch. Given the fact that Wisdom is a 64-year-old albatross, experts believe she might have flown over 6 million ocean miles in her lifetime, reported the Examiner.
[Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service]