A Really Old Bird with Chicks
How old can a bird live in the wild? And how long can they breed successfully. Records are sparse of course. A Laysan albatross named Wisdom, is at least 60 years old and was spotted in February 2011 raising a chick at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific Islands. The bird has sported and worn out 5 bird bands since she was first banded by U.S. Geological Survey scientist Chandler Robbins in 1956 as she incubated an egg. Robbins estimated Wisdom to be at least 5 years old then since this is the earliest age at which these birds breed, though they more typically breed at 8 or 9 after an involved courtship lasting several years. This means, of course, that Wisdom is more likely to be in her early sixties. While no bander goes out to study the maximum lifespan of a species as the only reason for their banding, every bander can contribute to this information. The information on life span is collected every time a banded bird is reported. The maximum longevity record cannot be longer than the time span that researchers have been studying that species, and the lifespan of the bands used on birds was shorter than the lifespan of the birds for some species. Most banders that are working on species with long lifespans are using a harder metal band that will last as long as the bird lives.
Albatrosses are large seabirds allied to the storm-petrels and diving-petrels. They range widely in the Southern Ocean and the North Pacific. They are absent from the North Atlantic, although fossil remains show they once occurred there too.
Albatrosses are among the largest of flying birds, and the great albatrosses (genus Diomedea) have the largest wingspans of any extant birds. The albatrosses are usually regarded as falling into four genera, but there is disagreement over the number of species.
Many terns and albatrosses live long lives often over 30 years. One land base bird, the morning dove, has a documented maximum life span of 31 years. There are also a number of parrot species that live 50 years or so.
"She looks great," said Bruce Peterjohn, the chief of the North American Bird Banding Program at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Md. "And she is now the oldest wild bird documented in the 90-year history of our USGS-FWS and Canadian bird banding program. To know that she can still successfully raise young at age 60-plus, that is beyond words. While the process of banding a bird has not changed greatly during the past century, the information provided by birds marked with a simple numbered metal band has transformed our knowledge of birds."
Wisdom, Peterjohn said, has likely raised at least 30 to 35 chicks during her breeding life, though the number may well be higher because experienced parents tend to be better parents than younger breeders. Albatross lay only one egg a year, but it takes much of a year to incubate and raise the chick. Klavitter said that Wisdom also nested in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010.
And since adult albatross mate for life, with both parents raising the young, it makes one wonder if Wisdom has had the same partner all these years or not.
Almost as amazing as being a parent at 60 is the number of miles this bird has likely logged — about 50,000 miles a year as an adult — which means that Wisdom has flown at least 2 to 3 million miles since she was first banded. Or, to put it another way, that’s 4 to 6 trips from the Earth to the Moon and back again with plenty of miles to spare.
Most albatrosses range in the southern hemisphere from Antarctica to Australia, South Africa and South America. The exceptions to this are the four North Pacific albatrosses, of which three occur exclusively in the North Pacific, from Hawaii to Japan, California and Alaska; and one, the Waved Albatross, breeds in the Galapagos Islands and feeds off the coast of South America. The need for wind in order to glide is the reason albatrosses are for the most part confined to higher latitudes; being unsuited to sustained flapping flight makes crossing the doldrums extremely difficult. The exception, the Waved Albatross, is able to live in the equatorial waters around the Galapagos Islands because of the cool waters of the Humboldt Current and the resulting winds.
In the non-breeding part of the year, albatross do not touch land -- the birds, scientists believe, often even sleep while flying over the ocean.
In addition to establishing longevity records for birds, banding data from the North American Bird Banding Program documents migratory patterns, provides critical harvest and survival information used to manage populations of migratory game birds, and supports research activities on many issues from toxicology to disease transmission and behavior. Since 1920, approximately 64.5 million birds have been banded by this Interior Department-Canadian Wildlife Service program, and of those, nearly 4.5 million bands have
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