There's No Stopping Wisdom

The oldest known bird in the wild lays another egg.

Photo: Greg Joder/USFWS

Wisdom the Laysan Albatross is 63 years old...and she's about to become a new mom!

Back in November, Wisdom was spotted at her annual nesting site in the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial, canoodling with her long-time mate (albatrosses are fiercely monogamous). "It was great to have her back," says refuge manager Dan Clark. Soon it was clear why Wisdom had returned. On Wednesday, Clark and his refuge staff were astonished to discover that she was sitting on a pearly white egg.

Wisdom is a pro when it comes to motherhood. She is the matriarch of an enormous brood, and has raised close to 40 chicks since she was banded by the venerable Chan Robbins back in 1956 (she was only 5 years old at the time). Her breeding prowess is not just attributed to her longevity. Laysan Albatrosses normally nest on a two-year cycle, but Wisdom has laid an egg every year since 2008. "Wisdom's continued contribution to the fragile albatross population is remarkable and important," writes Amanda Fortin, an outreach specialist for the USFWS Pacific Region.

Wisdom is inherently gentle, especially with her mate, and is easy to approach, says Clark. But she's also a hardy bird. Like all mature Laysan Albatrosses, she spends half of the year at sea, not touching land the entire time. And in 2011, she weathered a destructive tsunami.

Is Wisdom the oldest bird in her colony? Out of the 400,000 Laysan Albatrosses at the refuge, Clark believes there could be many birds around Wisdom's age—or even older. But she does seem to be the colony's champion egg layer. If this year is any indication, she won't be giving up her crown any time soon.