Wisdom the albatross, age 66, lays an egg at Pacific refuge

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Wisdom the albatross, the world’s oldest known breeding bird in the wild, has laid an egg at 66 years of age after returning to a wildlife refuge in the Pacific Ocean, U.S. wildlife officials said on Tuesday.

Wisdom, a Laysan albatross, at least 66 years old and the world's oldest known breeding wild bird incubates her egg in Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial, Hawaii, U.S. on December 3, 2016. Courtesy Kristina McOmber/Kupu Conservation Leadership Program & USFWS/Handout via REUTERS

The large seabird with thick pearly white chest feathers and charcoal colored wings can be seen in photos posted by the agency on social media incubating her egg between her webbed feet at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, the world’s largest albatross colony.

While it was not known when she laid her egg -- her 41st -- it was likely in the past few days, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) said.

Wisdom was discovered by a volunteer surveying a refuge duck population on Dec. 3, and photos of the egg were posted in recent days.

Wisdom’s journey back to motherhood, at 66 years of age or possibly older, has amazed refuge staff. Laysan albatrosses, which are monogamous, only typically live around 12 to 40 years of age, and they spend the vast majority of their lives in the air, flying thousands of miles (km) annually in search of food across vast tracts of the North Pacific Ocean.

“I find it impressive that not only has Wisdom returned for over six decades as the oldest living, breeding bird in the wild, but also that biologists here on Midway have been keeping records that have allowed us to keep track of her over the years,” Charlie Pelizza, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Acting Project Leader for Midway Atoll Refuge and Memorial, wrote on the agency’s Tumblr page.

Pelizza, recounting the day staff learned of her forthcoming chick, wrote: “When I made it to lunch, I knew something was up. The staff was abuzz with the news that Wisdom was back and incubating.”

Biologist Chandler Robbins, now 98, first placed an aluminum band around her ankle at the Pacific Ocean atoll in 1956, refuge officials said. Forty-six years later, Robbins spotted Wisdom among thousands of birds near the same nesting area and affixed a sturdier band to her ankle.

Wisdom has fledged at least nine chicks since 2006, and traveled roughly three million miles (4.8 million km) in her lifetime. Her latest chick, Kukini, hatched in February.

Wildlife officials said Wisdom will likely incubate her egg for a number of days until her mate, Akeakamai, a Hawaiian word that means a love of wisdom, among other things, returns to take over the incubation and she ventures to sea to eat.

Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Sandra Maler