Wisdom, a 68-year-old albatross believed to be the world’s oldest known wild bird, is set to become a mother for the 37th time after having laid another egg upon returning to her winter home at the Midway Atoll national wildlife refuge, according to the Guardian. Her longtime lover, Akeakamai, also seeks refuge in the same place.
If the egg that Wisdom has laid hatches, biologists believe it would be her 37th offspring. Although the exact age of Wisdom is difficult to estimate, there is a consensus in the scientific community that she is nearly 68 years old, as biologist Chandler Robbins, who first banded her back in 1956, estimated that she was five-years-old at the time. The two reunited back in 2002 when Chandler went to band her, only to recognize that she was the same bird he had banded 46 years earlier.
Researchers can often develop relationships with birds that they have been observing for so long. A part of sea mariner lore, albatrosses are known for their large size and impressive lifespan, and often times tend to outlive researchers who work with them. This is another reason why Wisdom is considered so special by biologists, as they have been able to monitor her movements and activities for a remarkably long period.
Biologists at the US Fish and Wildlife Service have affectionately documented Wisdom’s journey on social media, making her popular outside of the confines of the scientific community.
— US Fish and Wildlife (@USFWS) December 6, 2018
Because scientists have been monitoring albatrosses — including Wisdom — for quite some time, they have now reached the understanding that wild birds do not have trouble laying eggs well into their later years, unlike humans, whose ability to reproduce ends much earlier than birds. Like most Laysan albatrosses, Wisdom spends nearly 90 percent of her life flying over the Pacific, but returns to Midway Atoll for nesting and mating, as this two-and-a-half-square-mile island is not inhabited by humans. More than 1 million Laysan albatrosses return to the island, which was the site of the decisive Battle of Midway during the second world war. The island has remained in US possession ever since.
Albatrosses are uniquely intelligent in the way that they choose their partners for life, with the Cornell lab describing their courtship displays as “elaborate; coordinated movements in which the birds touch bills, spread one or both wings, bob their heads, place their bill under one wing, and pause with their bill pointed at the sky”.