If wisdom comes with age, then this bird is going to be one smart mama. The 66-year-old Laysan albatross has returned to her ancestral nesting grounds in the North Pacific and is once again sitting on a new egg.
Biologist Chandler Robbins first slipped a band onto Wisdom’s leg in 1956, when the bird would have been around 5 or 6 years old. Six decades later, both Robbins (now 98) and Wisdom (no spring chicken herself) are going strong. Wisdom has logged more than three million miles in her annual trips across the ocean and back again, first for food, and then to add to her family.
Wisdom and her mate Akeakamai (Hawaiian for “scholar” or “lover of wisdom,” and if that’s not adorable then we don’t know what is) last visited the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial earlier in 2016, when they welcomed their newest chick Kūkini (“messenger”).
Wisdom and Kūkini earlier this year. Image Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Albatross moms often take a year off between babies, so refuge staff had not expected to see Wisdom again this year.
But on December 3, there she was. Volunteer Kristina McOmber spotted Wisdom’s bright red leg band and discovered the old bird patiently sitting on a freshly laid egg.
Wisdom and Akeakamai will babysit in shifts, allowing one partner to go off and feed while the other sits and keeps their egg warm. While they may be the refuge’s most famous residents, the two birds are hardly alone; each year, hundreds of thousands of albatross [PDF] descend on the atoll and settle in new nests.
Charlie Pelizza of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is acting project leader for the refuge and memorial. When he arrived at lunch that day, he said in a statement, he could tell something exciting had happened. “The staff was abuzz with the news that Wisdom was back and incubating. It’s amazing what a bit of good news can do to brighten the day.”