January 11 – Albatross!

Today’s factismal: At 62 years old, the world’s oldest living banded bird is an albatross named Wisdom.

To any biologist, bird banding is one of the most useful and most basic tools. By simply slipping a little band of plastic onto a bird’s leg and asking citizen scientists to report where and when they see it, biologists can learn where species live, how far and how fast they migrate, what they eat, and how long they live. That last is particularly important when we are talking about the Laysan albatross Wisdom (as opposed to the wisdom of albatrosses).

Wisdom, the world's oldest known wild bird, inspects her newest egg (Image courtesy  Greg Joder, USFWS)

Wisdom, the world’s oldest known wild bird, inspects her newest egg
(Image courtesy Greg Joder, USFWS)

This beautiful bird has been tracked since 1953, using her band Z333 and that of her mate G000. Every year, she migrates from the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial to Hawai’i and back again. And every year, she reunites with her mate and lays another egg. But adding a new chick is a tiring process that requires a full year to accomplish; thus far, Wisdom and her mate have added some 30 chicks to the population.  After a chick is hatched, it takes a full five years before it is mature enough to have chicks of its own. Because of their remote location and long lifespans, the Laysan albatross is fortunate; their population is a very healthy million birds. But not all albatross species are so fortunate; many are threatened or are even endangered due to habitat loss and hunting.

Wisdom incubating her egg (Image courtesy Daniel W. Clark, USFWS)

Wisdom incubating her egg
(Image courtesy Daniel W. Clark, USFWS)

I wouldn’t be able to post these pictures without the aid of citizen scientists and the professional scientists at the US Fish and Wildlife Service who track the health of our ecosystem and help us make sure that our great-grandchildren will be able to see the same beauty we do. To see more of their wonderful images, flow over to their Flickr streams (there’s one for each region): http://digitalmedia.fws.gov/cdm/Flickr

One thought on “January 11 – Albatross!

  1. Pingback: January 5 – Happy New Bird! | Little facts about science

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