Feb 13

The world’s oldest known wild bird, a Laysan albatross known as ‘Wisdom’, has surprised scientists by producing a chick at 62 years old.

Photo of Laysan albatross pair with chick in nest

Laysan albatross pair with chick

Scientists had thought that female albatrosses, like other birds, became infertile and stopped producing chicks in later life. However, Wisdom hatched a healthy chick on 3rd February, and may have produced as many as 35 chicks in her long lifetime. Most Laysan albatrosses only live to around half her age.

It blows us away that this is a 62-year-old bird and she keeps laying eggs and raising chicks,” said Bruce Peterjohn, chief of the Bird Banding Laboratory at the U.S. Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. “We know that birds will eventually stop reproducing when they’re too old. The assumption about albatrosses is it will happen to them, too. But we don’t know where that line is. That, in and of itself, is pretty amazing.”

Photo of a pair of Laysan albatrosses preening

Like other albatrosses, the Laysan albatross mates for life

It is possible that some of the other albatrosses on the Midway Atoll are 60 years old or more, as their tracking bands have sometimes fallen off and left researchers unable to identify them. Albatrosses mate for life, and it is likely that Wisdom has had to find a new, younger mate at some point in her life.

To the moon and back

Wisdom nests on Midway Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, and incredibly is likely to have flown up to 4.8 million kilometres since she was first given a leg tag by scientists monitoring the birds in 1956.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which is performing the monitoring, said that this astonishing distance equates to “four to six trips from the Earth to the moon and back again with plenty of miles to spare”.

Photo of Laysan albatrosses returning from sea

Laysan albatrosses in flight

Albatrosses under threat

Wisdom is one of the lucky ones – albatrosses face a variety of threats and many are threatened with extinction. Laysan albatrosses were heavily exploited for their feathers in the first half of the 20th century, but one of the main threats to albatross species today is being caught and drowned in long-line fisheries.

Many species are also under threat from introduced predators such as cats and rats, which prey on the adult birds as well as their eggs and chicks.

Plastic debris is an additional threat to these large marine birds, and is often accidentally swallowed. Shockingly, an estimated 4,500 kg of plastic is thought to be mistakenly fed to albatross chicks by their parents each year. The plastic debris does not kill the chick immediately, but instead stops it from eating.

Watch ARKive’s Human Impacts video to find out more about the impacts of plastic waste on the Laysan albatross.

Photo of dead Laysan albatross showing plastics in stomach

Dead Laysan albatross with plastics in its stomach

Read more on this story at The Guardian – Albatross astonishes scientists by producing chick at age of 62.

Find out more about albatross conservation at Save the Albatross and WWF – Albatross.

View photos and videos of albatrosses on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author