Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Oldest wild bird in US raises chick

An albatross in her 60s has produced a new chick at a wildlife refuge on a tiny atoll in the north Pacific ocean, US government wildlife officials announced on Wednesday.

According to her banding records, she is the oldest known US wild bird ever documented – and she is evidently still fertile.

The oldest known wild bird in the U. S. startled biologists when it was spotted with her new chick on the Fish & Wildlife Service Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific Islands in February.

Wisdom, a Laysan albatross, was first tagged by U. S. Geological Survey scientists when she was around five years old in 1956. Since then, Wisdom has logged around three million flying miles, the equivalent of six round trips to the Earth’s natural satellite- Moon.

"To know that she can still successfully raise young at age 60-plus, that is beyond words," Bruce Peterjohn, the chief of the North American bird banding program as the US geological survey wildlife refuge in Laurel Maryland said in a statement.

John Klavitter, the biologist who spotted Wisdom, said she had also nested in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Wisdom produced her first known offspring in 1956 – which was when she was originally tagged by biologists from the USGS. They put her age at the time at a
conservative eight or nine; albatross can mate as early as age five.

Since then, Wisdom has long ago outlived the average life span for an albatross. She has also worn out five sets of aluminum bands.

John Klavitter, Fish & Wildlife Service biologist, said that it was a pleasant success story for wildlife as well as conservationists.

Speaking on the topic, Klavitter said, “It's really exciting to see that
these birds are long-living and still raising chicks at 60 years old or older.” According to data available, Wisdom so far has raised as many as thirty-five chicks. The feeding grounds of Laysan albatross are off the west coast of North America. This species spend their first 3-5 years constantly flying over the ocean, never touching land. It is believed that they even sleep while flying.

Albatross lay only one egg a year, and it takes about a year to raise a chick. After that, they typically take a year off.

Adult albatrosses mate for life, but it is not known whether Wisdom is still with her original partner, or if she has outlived him.

Wisdom survives Tsunami after Japanese Earthquake

Wisdom has thrilled biologists by surviving a tsunami that struck the
Pacific island where it nests, the Fish & Wildlife Service said on Monday.

Wisdom and her recently hatched chick were spotted alive about a week after Sand Island in the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge was struck by a 5-foot tidal wave unleashed by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake that hit March 11 off the coast of Japan.

The tsunami killed an estimated 2,000 adult albatrosses and about 110,000 chicks in the Refuge, a U.S. possession about a third of the way between Honolulu and Tokyo in the North Pacific.

Those tallies represent a small fraction of the overall population of 1 million Laysan albatross -- Wisdom's species -- that nest in the refuge, but 20 percent of this year's hatchlings.

"It's a dangerous world out there, there's lots going on, so I would say she's very lucky," said Barry Stieglitz, project leader for the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex of the Fish and Wildlife

Stieglitz said the deaths could account for a significant share of Laysan albatross chicks hatched during the current season.

"We may see just a slight decline in breeding birds next year, next year and the year after that," he said. "There will be a gap in the breeding population when these birds that would have grown up this year, would have matured and started breeding for the first time."

The Guardian,"Oldest wild bird in US raises chick", by Suzanne Goldenberg, accessed March 18, 2011
Reuters, "Oldest wild bird in U.S. survives tsunami", accessed March 21, 2011

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