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Sharing Wisdom - World’s Oldest Banded Bird Teaches Us About Power of One

By Amanda Fortin


Wisdom and her mate prepare to begin their first shift of incubation, Photo credit: Pete Leary, USFWS

They say you are only as old as you feel and it seems that Wisdom, the world’s oldest banded bird, isn’t feeling her 62 years. More impressive than the age of this now famous Laysan albatross is that she is a new mom. Wisdom and her mate were spotted on November 28 by a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist building up the nest around a new egg and preparing for the first incubation shift.

This isn’t the first time these two have readied their nest. Laysan albatrosses mate for life and Wisdom has raised between 30 to 35 chicks since being banded in 1956 at an estimated age of 5.  Laying only one egg per year, a breeding albatross will spend a tiring 365 days incubating and raising a chick.  Most albatross parents then take the following year off (and who could blame them?) but not Wisdom.

Nesting consecutively since 2008, Wisdom’s continued contribution to the fragile albatross population is remarkable and important. Her health and dedication have led to the birth of other healthy offspring which will help recover albatross populations on Laysan and other islands.  

Albatross, particularly as chicks, face many threats. Chicks can’t fly away from invasive predators like rats or escape weather-related risks like flooding and hot spells.  If they make it to adulthood, they face different threats.  Manmade problems like marine debris and pollution are dangers faced by all albatross.  Although the population of Laysan albatross has strengthened to roughly 2.5 million, 19 out of the 22 species of albatross are threatened or endangered.


Laysan albatross chick washed over by tsunami wave. Photo credit: Pete Leary, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Mainstream naysayers and conventional “wisdom” may say it is too late for us to make a difference for these birds. It is easy to believe that the changing climate and spread of pollution are too immense for the efforts of one person to be felt.  Maybe this long-living avian mom is here to offer a new kind of “wisdom” by teaching us the power of one.

 Imagine if we all took a cue from Wisdom and used our seemingly small steps to combat climate change or contribute to conservation?  What begins as a single idea can hatch, and fledge into stronger, more numerous acts that take flight and make a dramatic difference. This spirited albatross has inspired and amused people around the globe for decades. Hopefully, she has shared some Wisdom too. 


Oceanographer, explorer, and “hero for the planet” Dr. Sylvia Earle, and Wisdom share a moment together at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge within Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

Photo credit: Susan Middleton.

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