Wisdom, a female Laysan albatross, laid an egg last year at age 69 and successfully raised another chick. Perhaps you have read about her. She has been newsworthy.
Wisdom is the world’s oldest known wild bird, and oldest known banded bird, and was last year the oldest known new mother bird.
She is part of an albatross colony at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in mid-Pacific Ocean.
Wisdom has a mate named Akeakamai. They’ve been together since at least 2006, returning to their nesting site each year since then, each year producing an egg.
Wisdom has raised between 31 and 36 chicks in her lifetime, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Wisdom is noteworthy because few birds live so long. The birds coming to your feeders can’t touch Wisdom in age, but some of them do well for their size.
First, most songbirds, those of our yard and feeders, beat the odds if they make it to their first birthday. Mortality is high, for that is the way of the world. If all freshly hatched birds lived to breed, we’d have too many birds.
Googled sources tell us that a songbird in the wild has a 25% chance of living one year. And then it has a 50% chance of living another year. That’s what? — about one chance in eight of living two years.
The idea, I think, is to live long enough to reproduce, to continue the species. Then, good luck. If you make it to eight years, however, just like us, the longer birds live the longer they live.
There are birds programed to live a long time, for birds.
Going again to the internet, there are records of a red-tailed hawk living 25 years, a great blue heron 23 years, a cardinal 15 years, an Eastern bluebird 10 years, a ruby-throated hummingbird nine years.
Generally speaking, larger birds live longer than smaller birds. Birds with larger brains live longer than birds with smaller brains.
Communal roosting — like crows — helps extend life (more eyes watching for predators). Slower maturation is good. Bluebirds are out of the nest and on their own in less than a month. Bluebirds might live 10 years, but most don’t.
We know how long wild birds can live because some of them are banded. Trained people capture the birds, then attach to a leg a numbered metal band. (There is a special tool for this, assuring security and comfortable fit.) The number and date of banding are recorded. If the bird later comes to hand the number on the band can be checked in the record.
You would rather be a small bird than a small mammal. A chickadee will outlive a mouse of the same size. Birds live longer than nonflying animals of similar body size, up to three times as long.
But maybe you would rather be a bat. Bats, like birds, live longer than nonflying mammals of their size, much longer. There is record of a seven-gram bat living 41 years. Seven grams is a quarter of an ounce.
Bats have heartbeat-per-minute counts varying from 200 to 1,000, depending on activity. However, in winter, when hibernating, bats can lower their pulse rate to 30. Turn down the thermostat, save energy.
It’s a small world.
Lifelong birder Jim Williams can be reached at email@example.com. Join his conversation about birds at startribune.com/wingnut.