Wisdom (left) says hello to her mate as it incubates the egg that's just hatched in this photo from November 29, 2012. Via Fish and Wildlife Pacific's Flickr
When you're 62, you'll probably be watching Justin Bieber host the Price Is Right while surfing /r/BatteryDeals. But in the case of one Laysan albatross, hitting the big six-two means it's time to hatch another chick.
The majestic shorebird, known as Wisdom, was reported by Fish and Wildlife biologist Pete Leary on Sunday to have hatched her fifth chick in five years. That's incredibly impressive for Wisdom, who the USGS says is the oldest known bird in the wild. Leary said the chick, which was hatched on the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, looked healthy.
Wisdom was first banded by researchers in 1956 at the same refuge while she was incubating an egg. She was estimated to be at least five years old then, as that's the earliest Laysan albatross are known to mate. But their courtship can take many years, and some birds don't mate until they're eight or nine, which means Wisdom might be even older.
The Laysan albatross take courtship very seriously.
Laysan albatross lay only one egg a year, which take nearly a year to incubate, hatch, and raise. The birds, which can have wingpans up to 80 inches, sometimes take a year off from hatching duties. Still, Bruce Peterjohn, head of the North American Bird Banding Program at the USGS, said Wisdom has probably hatched between 30 and 35 chicks in her lifespan. During that time, she's reportedly worn out five metal leg bands. Even more impressive, the birds can clock 50,000 miles a year flying around the Pacific, which means Wisdom has likely flown two to three million miles in her life.
"As Wisdom rewrites the record books, she provides new insights into the remarkable biology of seabirds," Peterjohn said in a rather glowing release. "It is beyond words to describe the amazing accomplishments of this wonderful bird and how she demonstrates the value of bird banding to better understand the world around us. If she were human, she would be eligible for Medicare in a couple years yet she is still regularly raising young and annually circumnavigating the Pacific Ocean. Simply incredible."
It's not Wisdom's first turn in the news, either. Laysan albatross normally live to be about 30 in the wild, and in recent years as the elderly bird keeps producing eggs, she pops up in the news cycle, as in this 2011 Slate story about whether or not birds experience menopause. The short answer is that some birds have been observed to stop producing eggs as they get older, but it depends on the species, and in any case birds who do see an egg decline don't appear to go through menopause as we think of it. In the case of Widsom, she's clearly still fertile.
Wisdom's mate tends to the newly-hatched chick as dozens of Laysan albatross tend to their nests in the background. Via Flickr
That Wisdom keeps pumping out the chicks is a good thing for Laysan albatross, which have seen their population decline by somewhere between a third and a half in the last 85 years. The vast majority of breeding pairs are isolated to Midway Atoll and Laysan Island in the Pacific, and on Midway the lead paint of abandoned U.S. Navy buildings has contributed to a bit of a lead poisoning epidemic.
Overall, however, conservation efforts in recent years have had a positive effect, and last year the species was upgraded to near threatened from vulnerable by the IUCN as populations have held steady or, in some cases, rebounded. It's good news for the shorebirds because, as Wisdom shows, they're rather incredible.