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Wisdom The Albatross, Now 70, Hatches Yet Another Chick

Wisdom, a mōlī or Laysan albatross, and the world's oldest known banded wild bird, hatched a new chick at Midway Atoll on Feb. 1.
Jon Brack
Friends of Midway Atoll
Wisdom, a mōlī or Laysan albatross, and the world's oldest known banded wild bird, hatched a new chick at Midway Atoll on Feb. 1.

The world's oldest known wild bird, a Laysan albatross named Wisdom, has hatched yet another chick at Midway Atoll in the Hawaiian archipelago. Biologists first identified and banded Wisdom in 1956; she is at least 70 years old.

Wisdom's latest chick successfully hatched in February, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's office in the Pacific Islands.

"Wisdom laid her egg sometime during the last few days of November," the wildlife agency says. "Soon after, Wisdom returned to sea to forage and her mate Akeakamai took over incubation duties."

The pair have been hatching and raising chicks together since at least 2012, the wildlife agency said.

In the past decade, Wisdom has been astounding researchers and winning fans with her longevity and devotion to raising her young. She has flown millions of miles in her life, but she returns to her same nest every year on Midway Atoll, the world's largest colony of albatrosses.

To feed her hatchlings, Wisdom and her mate take turns flying as much as 1,000 miles on a single outing, spending days foraging for food along the ocean's surface.

"Each year that Wisdom returns, we learn more about how long seabirds can live and raise chicks," said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Beth Flint, who is the supervisory wildlife biologist at the Pacific Remote Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

Flint added, "Her return not only inspires bird lovers everywhere, but helps us better understand how we can protect these graceful seabirds and the habitat they need to survive into the future."

Every year, millions of albatrosses, which normally have only one mate in their life, all come home to Midway around October. If all goes well, couples reunite and then team up to incubate a single egg and feed their new chick.

"Though albatross mate for life, they may find new partners if necessary — for example if they outlive their first mate," Flint said.

The birds also don't produce an egg every year: "Biologists estimate that Wisdom has hatched at least 30–36 chicks in her lifetime," the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says.

The first biologist to band Wisdom was Chandler Robbins, who found her nest near a U.S. Navy barracks in 1956. That was Robbins' first season at Midway – and he had the somewhat surreal experience of finding Wisdom once again, 46 years later. The albatross has now outlived the biologist; Robbins died in 2017.

Midway's two flat islands northwest of Hawaii act as giant landing strips for albatrosses and millions of other seabirds, which rely on the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge to raise their young. This year's albatross chicks will make their first flights in early summer.

In the past, biologists have said Wisdom possesses a unique set of skills that have let her have a long and productive life soaring over the Pacific Ocean. When she was first banded, Dwight Eisenhower was in the middle of his two-term presidency.

"I think that over the years, she's definitely learned to avoid predators out in the ocean, and she's learned to forage very efficiently and also maybe avoid plastic these days and potentially fishing vessels," Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge biologist John Klavitter told NPR back in 2013.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.