Wisdom, World’s Oldest Known Wild Bird, Spotted Once Again At Age 71

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Wisdom, a Laysan albatross believed to be the world’s oldest wild bird, has returned again to the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Thursday.

The 71-year-old, who was spotted on Thanksgiving Day, has reappeared at the same nest site in the North Pacific for decades, the agency wrote on Facebook. Over the course of her life, she’s raised around 30 chicks. Last year, scientists learned that she had become a grandmother after one of her offspring was observed helping raise a chick of its own.

Wisdom and one of her chicks in 2018.

Bob Peyton/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP

However, Wisdom’s longtime mate, Akeakamai ― whose name means “lover of wisdom” in the Hawaiian language ― has not been seen at the wildlife refuge this year. The pair’s most recent chick hatched in early 2021, when Wisdom was at least 70.

Wisdom and her mate, Akeakamai, in 2015.
Wisdom and her mate, Akeakamai, in 2015.

Dan Clark/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP

Scientists can identify Wisdom via an aluminum ID fastened around her ankle. Renowned ornithologist Chandler Robbins first banded her in 1956 and gave her a new band in 2002. Robbins died in 2017 at the age of 98, more than six decades after first meeting Wisdom.

“I like to think that in all her years Wisdom has learned to avoid most of the hazards that threaten seabirds,” Robbins told Living Bird magazine shortly before his death. He noted that upon initially encountering Wisdom, she was nesting at a location well protected from tsunamis but close to overhead wires and traffic, which can pose risks to seabirds. When he recaptured her years later, he said, she had moved to a new nesting site free from such hazards.

Wisdom tends to an egg in 2016.
Wisdom tends to an egg in 2016.

Dan Clark/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP

There are some Wisdom truthers who don’t believe it could be the same bird returning year after year, The Washington Post reported in 2016. Skeptics posit that someone possibly switched the ID band to a new albatross at some point. But scientists seem confident she’s the real deal, while acknowledging that her case is unusual.

“Albatrosses are extremely long-lived but the unusual thing about Wisdom is she’s so much older than other birds,” seabird ecologist Richard Phillips told The New York Times last year.

After Wisdom, the next-oldest wild albatross known to Phillips was 61, he said.

On social media, news of Wisdom’s return this year was met with celebration and appreciation for her resilience.

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