Love Is an Albatross. Literally. Watch These Birds Do a Courtship Dance

Every couple has a story of how they met, even a couple of seabirds. Meet Wisdom and Akeakamai. They are laysan albatrosses and they became life-long partners on the dance floor.

"Each step in the dance is combined usually with a call or a chuckle or a mutter," says Breck Taylor, a seabird researcher at University of California, Santa Cruz. "And there’s one particular [step] when both birds point their bills to the sky, stare at each other eye to eye and moo like a cow."

Taylor says all albatrosses dance to find a mate. All that muttering and mooing pays off because dancing is crucial to help the pair bond.

Wisdom and a new chick, February 2017. (Naomi Blinick/USFWS Volunteer)

"When you see [it] work well, it does your heart good because you know they’ve made it a long way on the way to the relationship."

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After a pair chooses each other as steady dance partners, Taylor says they usually stay together for life.

"Albatrosses have the lowest divorce rate of any known bird. So they’re considered the most faithful and loyal bird that’s ever been studied."

But Wisdom is different. At the age of 67, she’s outlived at least one partner and is 12 years into her relationship with her current mate, Akeakamai.

She's so old, she's gotten the title of the oldest known wild nesting bird on the planet. She was banded back in 1956 on Midway Atoll -- northwest of Hawaii -- by legendary ornithologist Chandler Robbins.

Love Is an Albatross. Literally. Watch These Birds Do a Courtship Dance

Love Is an Albatross. Literally. Watch These Birds Do a Courtship Dance

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"What’s thought to be an old albatross is in the 50s so she’s already beaten the odds in that way," says Taylor.

Even in her old age, she’s a supermom. She’s laid at least 37 eggs in her lifetime. But she can’t do it alone. She and Akeakamai take turns protecting their offspring.

For about half the year, one member of the pair will be away, for weeks at a time, to feed in the Pacific Ocean, sometimes making it as far as the California coast.

"One is almost always at sea while the other protects the chick. So it takes enormous coordination between the two to make it work. And it also takes trust that your partner will have taken care of your chick."

For Wisdom and her mate, they pulled it off again. Kelly Goodale is a wildlife biologist on Midway Atoll where Wisdom and Akeakamai lives. And she has some exciting news about the couple.

"As of February 6, last Tuesday, their chick hatched. So she was there for the hatching. And she stuck around for a few days when Akeakamai came back from his feeding trip."

Then, Wisdom left to gather food for her family. She’s expected to return in a week or two.

"These two birds work so well together and really rely on each other in order to be successful and to raise a chick. It’s so inspiring," says Goodale.

From the standpoint of an outsider, it seems like these two birds have the ideal relationship. No word yet on how they deal with disagreements.

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The sound in the radio story was recorded by Jean Matuska. You can watch her video here. For more information about Wisdom, you can visit her Facebook page here or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service blog here. 

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