At 68 Years Old, Wisdom the Laysan Albatross Lays Another Egg

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Wisdom, a Laysan albatross
Wisdom will be busy over the next seven months incubating her egg.

Madalyn Riley/USFWS Volunteer/Flickr

Wisdom the Laysan albatross is making headlines again for coming home and laying an egg.

She is the world's oldest-known breeding bird in the wild and has successfully raised dozens of chicks. At 68 years old, that's quite an achievement for Wisdom!

On Nov. 29, Wisdom returned to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial, and biologists confirmed she laid the egg. Her partner Akeakamai and she will alternate incubating the egg. Akeakamai and she fly thousands of miles every year to return to their same nesting area in Midway.

Wisdom the albatross
Wisdom incubates her egg in December 2017. Jodie Spross/USFWS - Pacific Region

“Wisdom continues to inspire people around the world. She has returned home to Midway Atoll for over six decades and raised at least 30 to 35 chicks,” Bob Peyton, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) project leader for Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Memorial, said in a February 2017 news release. “Because Laysan albatross don’t lay eggs every year and when they do, they raise only one chick at a time, the contribution of even one bird to the population makes a difference.”

It takes nearly seven months to incubate the egg and raise a chick to fledge, according to FWS. During that time, Wisdom and Akeakamai take turns incubating the egg or caring for the chick while the other goes out to find food. Seabirds, and especially the albatross, "exhibit high nest site fidelity, returning to the same nesting site each year, and relying on protected nesting sites like the Refuge and Memorial to raise their young," according to the FWS.

Challenges ahead

Wisdom the Laysan albatross and her new chick
Both parents are necessary for feeding the chick, so their safety while foraging for food is always a concern. USFWS - Pacific Region/flickr

There are many challenges that stand in the way of a chick reaching fledging age. Both parents are necessary for feeding the chick, so their safety at sea is always a concern. Finding enough food, avoiding fishing lines and nets, and avoiding the frightening abundance of plastic pollution are all key. Unfortunately, many chicks die as parents mistake plastic objects for food, such as cigarette lighters, toothbrushes and fishing floats, and bring it back to feed to the chick along with the flying fish eggs that are a staple for the growing birds. Their stomachs fill with the indigestible objects and they end up starving to death.

Wisdom has racked up millions of miles of flying over her lifetime. Her ability to survive, and to bring so many chicks to fledging age, means she has truly earned her name. Understanding the challenges albatross face, it is even more amazing that Wisdom has raised so many chicks successfully.

You can keep up on more good news by following the Friends of Midway Atoll NWR page on Facebook, where lots of updates and photos are posted.

And now, to celebrate all this fantastic news, let's look at some adorable albatross chicks from Midway Atoll!

laysan albatross chick wish sun rays
 USFWS - Pacific Region/flickr
leucistic laysan albatross chick spreads its wings
 USFWS - Pacific Region/flickr
laysan albatross chick in silhouette
 USFWS - Pacific Region/flickr
black-footed albatross chick and adult
 USFWS - Pacific Region/flickr
laysan chick
 USFWS - Pacific Region/flickr
laysan albatross chick with adult
 USFWS - Pacific Region/flickr
laysan chick in flowers
 USFWS - Pacific Region/flickr
leucistic albatross chick with parents
 USFWS - Pacific Region/flickr