Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Ancient Albatross

The albatross is a large seabird with an amazing 6 ft. wingspan. On the ground an albatross is often somewhat clumsy, it rules the airwaves, riding thousands of miles on the air currents, rarely needing to do anything other than make tiny adjustments to those outspread wings.

Albatrosses are found in the Southern Ocean and the North Pacific Ocean, but have never been seen in the Atlantic Ocean. They feed on squid, fish and krill which they catch either on the fly from the surface of the sea or by diving below.
A Laysan albatross, named Wisdom, is, at approximately 62 years of age, the world's oldest known wild bird. When she was first banded in 1956 on Midway Island, she was incubating an egg, so must have been at minimum 5 years old that season. Most albatrosses don't reach sexual maturity until their 8th or 9th year, so she may even be as old as 66 years. Wisdom has worn out 5 bird bands in the years since her first banding.
You might think that she would be enjoying her retirement years, but she has just recently hatched another chick, her sixth in as many years. She will be consumed for most of the coming year by the raising of this chick.
One of the truly amazing facts about albatrosses is the enormous distance they travel in a year: 50,000 miles by the average adult bird. That means that Wisdom has an accumulated mileage of 2 to 3 million miles since 1956.
Albatrosses are threatened by invasive species such as rats and feral cats and their survival is also compromised by the plastic debris they pick up from the ocean and unknowingly feed to the chicks. The plastic doesn't kill the chicks directly, but reduces their food intake which leads to dehydration.  
Information from The US Geological Survey  and Wikipedia.