Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Oldest Banded Bird

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

Diomedea gibsoni 2 - SE Tasmania
By JJ Harrison (
(Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0
(], via Wikimedia Commons
The Albatross
Most references I hear to albatrosses are about a burden one must bear. Some are tinged with a "poor me." This idea is found in Coleridge's long poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, particularly the line, "the albatross/ About my neck was hung."

Reducing this great keeper of the oceanic sky to this single idea diminishes this magnificent group of birds. While on the whaling brig Daisy, Robert Cushman Murphy (1887-1973), ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History, wrote this about his first sighting of an albatross at sea. "I now belong to the higher cult of mortals, for I have seen the albatross."  I like that among the many things named in honor of Murphy is a feather louse, common to the albatross, Eurymetopus murphyi.

Wisdom: The oldest banded Bird
The Independent reports on the return of a pair of Laysan albatross to a nature reserve on Midway Atoll. So?! What is unique about this return is that the female is approximately 64 years old, the oldest banded bird. She is there to hatch and raise what is thought may be her 36th chick! It is very likely that she has hatched 30 to 35 birds.

Wisdom--how appropriate the name--was first banded in 1956 and her age was estimated at 5 years old.

Sylvia Earle and Wisdom the Albatross (6741930627)
By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters
[CC BY 2.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons
Here is the Laysan albatross in flight.

Dr. Seuss was right (as he was about so many things). Oh, the places she has been and may she continue to go.

Laysan albatross

There are many good books about albatrosses. I recommend one that discusses these magnificent flyers from several angles: facts, fictional accounts, legends, art, science and culture. "Albatross" is published by Reaktion Press and is one from an animal series aptly described as "a new kind of animal history."  It is wonderfully idiosyncratic and richly illustrated.

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