World's oldest wild bird is 'actively courting' after losing long-term mate

Wisdom the albatross courting a potential mate.
Wisdom, a Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) in her 70s, was spotted courting potential mates at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. (Image credit: USFWS Columbia Pacific Northwest)

The world's oldest known wild bird is courting new mates on a remote island off Hawaii after potentially losing her lifelong sweetheart, researchers say. 

The female albatross, nicknamed Wisdom, is likely in her 70s and has been cruising around the North Pacific Ocean since the Eisenhower administration, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 

Biologists first identified Wisdom in 1956 and put a band on her right leg that is still attached today. The albatross was already mature when she was banded, meaning she could be 72 years old — two decades older than the average lifespan of her species.

"Wisdom, the world's oldest known wild bird, was photographed again last month on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, dancing with potential mates," representatives of the Pacific Region of the USFWS wrote in a Facebook post. "Her long-term mate, Akeakamai, has yet to be seen and was absent the last two nesting seasons, too."

Laysan albatrosses (Phoebastria immutabilis), known as mōlī in Hawaiian, are long-living seabirds that pair for life with a single mate. They are named after a breeding colony of 145,000 pairs on Laysan, one of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands located 930 miles (1,500 kilometers) northwest of Honolulu.

Related: Adult albatrosses found gnawed to death by mice on 3rd remote island

Female Laysan albatrosses usually lay a single egg in the first half of December, but Wisdom was still participating in mating dances well into spring, said Jonathan Plissner, the supervisory wildlife biologist at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, a nature reserve 1,310 miles (2,110 km) northwest of Honolulu.

Midway Atoll, or Kuaihelani in Hawaiian, hosts the biggest colony of Laysan albatrosses in the world, with 600,000 breeding pairs returning to its two sandy islands every year.

Wisdom has made sporadic appearances at Midway Atoll since late November 2023. (Image credit: USFWS Columbia Pacific Northwest)

"She was actively courting other birds in March," Plissner told USFWS representatives in an email. 

Wisdom has made sporadic appearances at Midway Atoll since the beginning of the nesting season in late November 2023. Plissner doesn't expect Wisdom to nest this year but said "she is quite spry for a septuagenarian," in a post on the social platform X

USFWS scientists estimate the elderly albatross has flown 3.5 million miles (5.6 million km) in her lifetime — the equivalent of 7 round trips to the Moon. Laysan albatrosses start breeding when they are 3 to 4 years old, according to the American Bird Conservancy, suggesting Wisdom has laid up to 60 eggs in her lifetime, roughly half of which may have hatched to produce fledglings while the other half may have failed or been lost to predators.

Between nesting seasons, Wisdom spends nearly half the year at sea, soaring across the Pacific Ocean sky for hours on end without a single flap of her narrow, 3-foot-long (0.9 m) wings. Like other Laysan albatrosses, she likely fuels her long flights by feeding on small squid, flying fish eggs, fish and crustaceans.

Sascha Pare
Trainee staff writer

Sascha is a U.K.-based trainee staff writer at Live Science. She holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Southampton in England and a master’s degree in science communication from Imperial College London. Her work has appeared in The Guardian and the health website Zoe. Besides writing, she enjoys playing tennis, bread-making and browsing second-hand shops for hidden gems.