4 min read

Meet Wisdom, The 63-Year-Old Albatross Who Still Travels The World

<p><a class="checked-link" href="http://media.tumblr.com/4306b97184da10f00b33a32842749eaf/tumblr_inline_nfnq7jt1WI1roeiev.jpg" style="text-decoration: none;">B.Wolfe/USFWS</a>)</p>

This albatross, named Wisdom, is a true ancient mariner. She was spotted once again returning to her home nest on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, an island park in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Wisdom landed in late November, to be greeted by her mate (albatrosses shack up for life and mate once a year), who was waiting for her a few feet from last year's nest.

Wisdom, left, prods her mate who is incubating an egg. (USFWS Pacific/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Each year, albatrosses embark on fantastically long flights across the sea. Wisdom has flown "literally millions of miles over the Pacific Ocean in her lifetime," according to Midway refuge scientists. And at 63, she's thought to be the world's oldest wild bird. (The oldest bird in captivity, a cockatoo named Cookie, is about 80; the oldest animal, a tortoise named Jonathan, is a salty 182.) U.S. Geological Survey biologist Chandler Robbins placed a small circlet around Wisdom's leg in 1956, as part of an effort to keep Laysan albatrosses from crashing into Navy airplanes.

Wisdom - who was banded around 5 years old - has been returning to Midway Atoll each year around November since then. She's a well-practiced mom, having raised roughly three dozen chicks.

Wisdom lays an egg in November 2013. (Pete Leary/USFWS)

Albatrosses no longer need to fear colliding with Navy aircraft near Midway - the nests have been relocated a safe distance away - but that doesn't mean the birds are free from threats. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) studied 19 albatross species in 2008; 13 of those species are "in deep trouble," said Eric Gilman, an IUCN marine scientist. Longline fishing hooks can ensnare and drown birds, and ocean pollution also poses a threat.

Though the IUCN still considers the Laysan albatross "near threatened," continued monitoring of nest sites, as well as banning longline fishing close to the birds' Hawaiian homes, have helped this albatross population stabilize at about 1.8 million birds.