Wisdom, the Oldest Bird in the World

Albatrosses are a family of large seabirds with a long life expectancy, including Wisdom, the world's oldest bird.
Wisdom, the Oldest Bird in the World
Elsa M. de Arribas

Written and verified by the biologist Elsa M. de Arribas.

Last update: 26 September, 2022

Today we’re going to tell you about Wisdom, a female Laysan albatross that has reached the age of 70, something unthinkable until now. Is it the oldest bird in the world?

The oldest bird in the world: Wisdom

We recommend that you read this article, as you’ll discover some fascinating facts about albatrosses in general and this one in particular.

The oldest bird in the world.

What is an albatross?

Albatrosses make up a family of seabirds known for their large size, like the procellariids, hydrobatrosses, and pelicanoids. This family of birds is called Diomedeidae, whose etymological origin comes from the Greek hero Diomedes.

Legend has it that this warrior confronted and wounded the god of war, Ares, supported by Athena. However, his companions were turned into birds due to divine wrath. In addition, he is also linked to these birds due to the monogamy they demonstrate.

In addition, the name albatross comes from the Portuguese alcatraz, the name given to certain black seabirds with a reddish crop. Today, alcatraz is associated with birds of the genus Morus and the prison of the same name, whose name derives from the albatross colonies that nested on that island.

However, to differentiate between the birds, the term albus was applied, which refers to their white color, thus giving rise to the word albatross. The albatross is a flying seabird that encompasses up to four different genera and more than 20 species within the Diomedeidae family.

Habitat and distribution

These birds can reach 1.5 meters in length (5 feet), weigh more than 8 kilograms (17.6 pounds) and have a wingspan of up to 3.5 meters (11.5 feet). The habitat of these non-migratory birds is near cliff edges or within cliff crevices, while their distribution is extensive and varies according to the genus or species studied.

Diet

Their diet is composed of cephalopods, schools of fish, or crustaceans, although they can also be scavengers and feed on carcasses. For this reason, they’re birds that are well known to sailors and are part of maritime superstitions and legends.

Like other seabirds, albatrosses must lower the salt content obtained by ingesting seawater during their feeding. To do so, they use their salt gland, located above their eyes. In addition, unlike other birds of their order, they have a highly developed sense of smell thanks to the two tubular nostrils in their beaks.

Biology

Albatrosses are monogamous for life, a fact that occurs often in birds. However, they have certain unique nuances, with a period of mourning following the loss of a mate, which means a period of non-breeding until they find a new mate.

As for their reproductive period, they reach sexual maturity at 10 years of age, although some may reach maturity at 5 years of age. The female lays a single egg, which is cared for and hatched by both parents until it hatches 80-130 days after laying (depending on the species). Another curious fact is that these birds tend to nest and mate always in the same nest.

On some occasions, it has been observed that albatrosses can form same-sex pairs, mostly female-female. Among the hypotheses that have been put forward is that the proportion of males is lower than that of females, so they help each other to raise the chicks.

Why is Wisdom special?

An albatross.

Wisdom belongs to the species Phoebastria immutabilis, a genus that includes the dusky albatrosses and differs from the rest in that it has achieved the title of the oldest bird in the world. This female was banded in 1956 at Midway Atoll, where she has returned to breed (it is believed) more than 40 chicks.

Normally, the life expectancy of albatrosses is among the longest among birds, reaching up to 50 years of age. However, Wisdom has reached 70 years of age, earning the title of the oldest wild bird, surviving numerous natural disasters.

According to some experts, it isn’t known whether Wisdom really is the oldest bird in the world and whether it is actually over 70 years old. However, its return to the area of Midway, is a cause of happiness among its numerous followers, as it has survived different natural and human phenomena. It certainly seems to live up to its name!

Among all the animals on our planet, birds have some very curious characteristics and behavior, including their courtship, biology, and ecology. Because of this, it’s important to protect all the species that make up our planet, as they’re indispensable for Earth’s survival.

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