Oldest known wild bird, Wisdom, is back!

Oldest known wild bird spotted in the Pacific

An albatross named Wisdom, the oldest known wild bird at 70 years old, at least, has once again returned to the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific. A volunteer spotted the septuagenarian at the refuge on Friday, December 1, 2023. And she looks good for her age!

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) first tagged Wisdom at Midway, in the 1950s. The tag bears the designation Z333. Experts estimate that she was hatched at least as early at 1951, if not earlier. That would put her at a minimum of 72 years old.

The 2024 lunar calendars are here! Best Christmas gifts in the universe! Check ’em out here.

Laysan albatrosses

Wisdom is a Laysan albatross, or moli. These birds return to tiny atolls in the Pacific every year starting in October. Because of their long lifespans, they can be a challenge to study. A typical albatross lives for two to three times the length of a biologist’s career.

Plus, albatrosses are difficult to study because they spend up to 90% of their lives in the air, moving from their summer feeding ground in the northern Pacific, to the tiny atolls in the mid-Pacific that are their places to nest.

Two birds with white heads and long beaks, with their heads together.
Here’s Wisdom with her longtime mate, Akeakamai (“Lover of Wisdom”). Like most pairs of moli, these two returned every year to the same nest site to lay 1 egg. Over her long lifetime, Wisdom is thought to have laid some 50 to 60 eggs. About 30 of her chicks “fledged” (grew feathers and learned to fly). Akeakamai was last seen at the refuse in 2021. Image via USFWS.

Albatrosses are ‘near-threatened’

The population of the Laysan albatross falls in the category of “near-threatened.” They’re no longer hunted as they were in the early 1900s. But their numbers haven’t yet recovered.

In 2009, scientists estimated that around 10,000 albatrosses died annually due to poisoning at Midway. Chicks born in nests close to buildings left behind by the Navy ingested lead-based paint chips that led to their deaths.

By August 2018, the U.S. had remediated the lead problem and declared Midway Atoll lead-free.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has said:

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.

Oldest known wild bird: A bunch of white and black birds with one near the center with mouth open, as if speaking to a neighbor.
The world’s oldest known wild bird, an albatross named Wisdom, has once again shown up at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific. A volunteer spotted the septuagenarian (a being whose age is in the 70s!) on Friday, December 1, 2023. She’s identifiable by the tag labeled Z333, on her leg. In this image she’s near the center, with an open mouth, appearing to catch up with a friend after her long flight. Image via USWFS/ Jon Plissner.

Bottom line: A beloved albatross named Wisdom is the world’s oldest known wild bird. She’s more than 70! And she just returned again to her winter nesting ground.

Read more: New chick for oldest known wild bird Wisdom

December 8, 2023

Like what you read?
Subscribe and receive daily news delivered to your inbox.

Your email address will only be used for EarthSky content. Privacy Policy
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

More from 

Kelly Kizer Whitt

View All