After more than six decades in which she has flown the equivalent distance of six round-trips to the Moon, Wisdom the albatross was already considered a tough old bird.
Now she has confounded scientists by setting another record after producing a chick at the age of 62, edging out the previous
record-holder – a 61-year-old albatross from New Zealand named Grandma.
Wisdom’s latest hatchling brings her total number of offspring to at least 35 and makes her the wild bird kingdom’s most geriatric mother.
Sue Schulmeister, manager of the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, in the Pacific Ocean, said: “Wisdom is one is one of those incredible seabirds that has provided the world valuable information about the longevity of these beautiful creatures.”
Despite her feat, she has yet to meet her new chick, which emerged from its egg on the Midway Atoll on Sunday, while Wisdom was away at sea feeding.
“She’s going to have a nice surprise when she gets back,” said Bruce Peterjohn, chief of the US Geological Survey’s North American Bird Banding Programme, which has tracked Wisdom since she was first fitted with an identification band in 1956.
Scientists cannot explain how it is that Wisdom, a Laysan albatross, has lived twice as long as an average albatross, though the species does have a reputation for longevity.
“Here she is regularly still raising young and annually circumnavigating the Pacific Ocean. Simply incredible,” said Mr Peterjohn.
“As Wisdom rewrites the record books, she provides new insight into the remarkable biology of seabirds. It is beyond words to describe the amazing accomplishments of this wonderful bird and how she demonstrates the value of bird banding to better understand the world around us.”
Wisdom laid an egg in November after arriving for her winter break on the remote US territory, located around 1,250 miles (781 kms) west of Honolulu. She and her mate took it in turns to incubate the egg, alternating two-week shifts sitting on the nest with two-week periods spent at sea feeding.
“Dad is currently tending the chick and the mother will be back after two weeks at sea to take her turn. For albatrosses, it’s a normal rotation – one on, one off,” Mr Peterjohn explained.
Wisdom’s story is considered all the more remarkable because she is also a survivor of the 2011 Pacific tsunami that devastated Japan. An estimated 110,00 albatross chicks were killed when waves crashed over their nesting grounds on the tiny atoll, home to three million birds. The loss represented 22 per cent of that year’s generation.
The species is at risk of extinction due largely to threats from ocean pollution, especially discarded plastics that can enter their digestive system while they are feeding on fish and squid. The birds process what they eat into a rich oil that they regurgitate to feed their young, meaning that harmful substances are easily passed on.
Doug Staller, the US Fish and Wildlife Service superintendent for the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, which includes the Midway Atoll refuge, said: “Everyone continues to be inspired by Wisdom as a symbol of hope for her species.”