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What is the oldest living wild bird?

Happy birthday to a beautiful soul who appreciates birds. I met this creative powerhouse in college (the same year Facebook came out for a select few colleges) and have followed her and her work ever since. This woman dedicated HOURS (over 200) drawing all the birds of North America for her final project in an art class, you can read about her experience here.


In honor of this special birthday I wanted to do something with birds. I had no idea how to illustrate the answer of how many bird species there are in the world in an hour (which is the amount of time I usually allot for the actual painting part of these Daily Doodles... though it should be noted some Doodles take as little as 20 minutes and others take over the hour). After some searching around about birds, I decided to look up what is the oldest living wild bird.


While most of the birds on the top ten list of oldest known birds were domestic, the oldest known living wild bird is a Laysan albatross and is called Wisdom, she turned 70 this year. She was banded in 1956 at the age of 6, by a biologist named Chandler Robbins during his first season studying albatross on the Midway Atoll. At the time of course, she was nothing special in the bird world, just one of the thousands of newly banded birds who are difficult to track since they spend 90% of their life in the air or at sea.


A Layson albatross has an average lifespan of between 12-40 years. Imagine the surprise when Wisdom was rediscovered 46 years later by the same man who banded her almost 5 decades earlier. Layson albatross are monogamous, though they will repair if their mate dies, as happened in Wisdom's case (being twice as old as most of the other albatross will do that). She has raised at least 35 chicks since being banded in 1956.


Layson albatross only lay one egg each year, and if all goes well, the mating pair will take turns raising their hatchling for about five and a half months until it becomes a fledgling. Wisdom and her current mate, Akeakamai, have been returning to Midway every year since 2006 to breed, which is somewhat unusual. According to the USFWS, albatross will often take a year off between breeding seasons to rest.


Just in case it's eating you up to not know how many bird species there are in the world, it's a widely debated subject. "Species" is really what's being debated... Joel Cracraft, an evolutionary biologist and ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, decided to do a study to see how many subspecies or "taxa" there are in the bird world. The research identified more than 18,000 bird taxa—nearly twice as many as the current count of the world’s bird species. This number has some ornithologists rolling their eyes and others nodding in agreement, depending on how they feel about biological species.




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