ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Here's a fresh observation from the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, near Hawaii. Old bird, new chick. Wisdom, a Laysan albatross, has lived more than twice as long as an average member of her species. She's thought to be 62 years old. And among birds that have been identified and banded, she's thought to be the oldest living free-flying bird. So she's a baby boomer and in more ways than one. On Sunday, Wisdom shocked scientists by hatching a healthy chick.
They thought she was way too old for such nonsense. And joining me now to talk about Wisdom's surprising fecundity is John Klavitter who is one of the biologists who's been monitoring Wisdom at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Hi.
JOHN KLAVITTER: Aloha. Good to be here.
SIEGEL: And first, let me ask you: How do we know that Wisdom is 62? How do we know she's not lying about her age?
KLAVITTER: Well, she's actually at least 62 years old, and she was banded in 1956, so it's by banding records.
SIEGEL: And what do you think is the secret to her longevity?
KLAVITTER: I think that over the years, she's definitely learned to avoid predators out in the ocean, and she's learned to forage very efficiently and also maybe avoid plastic these days and potentially fishing vessels.
SIEGEL: Does a 62-year-old female albatross have trouble finding a mate at that advanced age?
KLAVITTER: Well, typically, these birds pick a mate. They stay together for life, unless one of the mates disappears, and so it could be that Wisdom might have the original mate. It's probably unlikely, and so maybe she's had two mates during her time, but usually, they'll nest in the same spot. That really helps biologists to track them.
SIEGEL: Now a bit about the chick. First of all, are we sure that this is her chick? Did she just happen to find an egg and, you know, hatch it?
KLAVITTER: We're pretty certain. We've been tracking her ever since we located her in 2006, and so we were very excited to see that she arrived again this year with her mate. And they did a courtship dance, and they built a nest together. And we watched and watched. And sure enough, she did lay the eggs, so we're certain it's hers.
SIEGEL: Do you know whether this chick has many siblings?
KLAVITTER: We do know that the chick does have siblings. Since 2006, Wisdom has been able to fledge four of her chicks, four to five, so that's pretty darn good.
SIEGEL: Some many of us were introduced to the albatross by "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and think of it as figuratively as the thing that hangs around your neck. Tell us something wonderful about albatrosses that you've learned from watching them.
KLAVITTER: Well, they are pretty amazing and interesting. And their wingspan is six feet across, so they are large birds, but they're not pretty heavy. They only weigh about seven pounds or so. When they take care of their chicks, the male and female both take turns feeding it, and they'll forage about 1,000 miles from Midway to find food, mainly squid. And they'll take about three to four days to go 1,000 miles. They'll pick up squid, and they'll fly back here. So the parents take turns for five to six months doing that, so it's amazing they'll log tens of thousands of miles finding food for their chick in a single breeding season.
SIEGEL: A thousand miles, I've got to fly out to find some squid. I'll see you in three days.
KLAVITTER: Yeah. And it could be about a week, but it is amazing how far they go and the dedication that they have to find squid and bring it back for their chicks.
SIEGEL: Well, John Klavitter, thank you very much for talking with us.
KLAVITTER: Well, it's been my pleasure. Aloha. And have a fantastic day.
SIEGEL: Okay. Mr. Klavitter is deputy wildlife refuge manager at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, and we've been talking about the very unconventional Wisdom, an albatross who hatched a chick at age 62.