Wisdom, a Laysan albatross and the oldest wild bird known to science, has just become a mom again. In February, Wisdom and her mate, Gooo (so named because he was banded with the identification number 6,000), hatched what could be Wisdom’s 40th chick at their nest within the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, part of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
Wisdom is estimated to be at least 65 years old—but could be older. She was first banded at her nest site in 1956 by biologist Chandler Robbins, who figured she was at least 5 at the time—the youngest age at which these birds usually have chicks. Forty-six years later, Dr. Robbins rediscovered Wisdom near the same location, and she has been closely observed since. Wisdom is not the only one showing remarkable longevity. Dr. Robbins is now 97 and—despite being no spring seabird, himself—remains active in the field.
During the 1800s, albatrosses were slaughtered indiscriminately for their feathers. A Smithsonian expedition called attention to the wanton killing, which prompted President Theodore Roosevelt to set aside the area as a reserve for seabirds in 1909.
Today, beginning in late November, hundreds of thousands of albatrosses descend to nest on Midway Atoll. Though their nest sites are now protected, the birds still face perils from ingested ocean garbage, fishing nets, and invasive species. Nevertheless, Wisdom and her kind persevere. “Wisdom is an iconic symbol of inspiration and hope,” notes refuge manager Robert Payton. “From a scientific perspective, albatrosses are a critical indicator species for the world’s oceans that sustain millions of human beings as well.”