The female Laysan albatross known as Wisdom had returned to the Midway Atoll, an island 1200 miles northwest of Hawaii, earlier this month and is now incubating an egg.
Initially ringed by biologist Chandler Robbins in 1956 when she arrived on the island to breed, she is estimated to be at least 66 years old as Laysan albatrosses’ reach reproductive age at the age of five but can take up to 10 years to start breeding.
“When I made it to lunch, I knew something was up,” said Charlie Pelizza, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acting project leader. “The staff was abuzz with the news that Wisdom was back and incubating.”
Wisdom is thought to have raised 30-35 chicks in her lifetime, including a chick called Kukini last year.
Wisdom’s previous chick, Kukini. © Kiah Walker/USFWS
Whilst albatrosses mate for life, Wisdom is thought to have outlived at least one previous partner and has been joined in recent years by Akeakamaiare, her current mate.
It was expected that having bred last year, the two would take a year off but they surprised everyone by returning to the same nest that they have been using each year.
“This is a great record,” said Professor Tim Birkhead, a seabird expert at the University of Sheffield. “What is remarkable is that she is still producing fertile eggs with a viable embryo. In many species as they age their ability to produce fertile and viable eggs and embryos is reduced.”
Together the two birds will share the parenting duties of incubating the egg and feeding the chick once it hatches in mid February.
Wisdom and her mate. © Dan Clark/USFWS
Laysan albatross are distributed across the northwestern and northeasten range of the Pacific, with 71% of the global population nesting on the three islands of Midway Atoll.
Find out more about the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge