Wisdom, the oldest known wild bird, has yet another feather in her capâ€”a new chick.
The Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis)â€”62 years old at leastâ€”recently hatched a healthy baby in the U.S. Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, her sixth in a row and possibly the 35th of her lifetime, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) North American Bird Banding Program.
But Wisdom’s longevity would be unknown if it weren’t for a longtime bird-banding project founded by USGS research wildlife biologist Chandler Robbins.
Now 94, Robbins was the first scientist to band Wisdom in 1956, who at the time was “just another nesting bird,” he said. Over the next ten years, Robbins banded tens of thousands of black-footed albatrosses (Phoebastria nigripes) and Laysan albatrosses as part of a project to study the behavior of the large seabirds, which at the time were colliding with U.S. Navy aircraft.
Robbins didn’t return to the tiny Pacific islandâ€”now part of the U.S. PapahÄnaumokuÄkea Marine National Monumentâ€”until 2002, when he “recaptured as many birds as I could in hopes that some of them would be the old-timers.”
Indeed, Robbins did recapture Wisdomâ€”but he didn’t know it until he got back to his office at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland, and checked her band number in the database.
“That was real exciting, because we didn’t think the chances of finding one that old would be that good,” Robbins said in an interview from his office at the Patuxent center, where he still works.