Image: Oldest bird with her chick
John Klavitter  /  U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
The oldest known wild bird in North America, a Lysan albatross, is seen with her new chick on the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific Islands.
updated 3/8/2011 4:15:30 PM ET 2011-03-08T21:15:30

The oldest known wild bird in North America — a female albatross that's over 60 and has outlasted five tracking bands — is now a proud mom, U.S. officials announced Tuesday.

"She looks great," Bruce Peterjohn, head of the North American Bird Banding Program at the U.S. Geological Survey, said in a statement. "And she is now the oldest wild bird documented in the 90-year history" of the program.

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The Laysan albatross, nicknamed Wisdom by researchers, was spotted a few weeks ago with her chick at breeding grounds on the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific Islands.

She was first banded in 1956 and likely has raised at least 30 chicks, Peterjohn said. Albatross lay only one egg a year, and then it takes much of the second year to incubate and raise the chick.

"Since adult albatross mate for life, with both parents raising the young, it makes one wonder if Wisdom has had the same partner all these years or not," the USGS said in its statement.

The service also estimated that Wisdom has probably flown about 50,000 miles a year as an adult — or at least 2 to 3 million miles since she was first banded. Albatross venture from the Pacific Islands to feeding grounds off western North America.

"To put it another way, that’s 4 to 6 trips from the Earth to the Moon and back again with plenty of miles to spare," the service stated.

Life isn't idyllic for albatross, however. Of 21 species, 19 are threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Threats include: lead paint poisoning; accidentally being hooked on fishing lines; egg-eating rats and feral cats; and plastic trash in the seas.

"The birds ingest large amounts of marine debris," the USGS said, "by some estimates 5 tons of plastic are unknowingly fed to albatross chicks each year by their parents. Although the plastic may not kill the chicks directly, it reduces their food intake, which leads to dehydration and most likely lessens their chance of survival."

Albatross might not be the oldest birds around — parrots in captivity can live several decades longer — but, given those obstacles in the wild, the fact that Wisdom is still an active mom is pretty special.

"To know that she can still successfully raise young at age 60-plus," said Peterjohn, "that is beyond words."

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