Sunday, December 13, 2009

Some New Very Old Birds

The British Trust for Ornithology is announcing new age records for several bird species. The new records are based on recoveries of previously banded birds. Some are world records and others are European records.
The most impressive is the bar-tailed godwit, a medium-sized wading bird, one of which was caught in Norfolk almost 34 years after it was tagged in the same county. The oldest bird previously found was 32.

A red-necked phalarope, a small wader, was found at nearly twice the previous maximum age: 11 years and 10 months, compared with six years.
To be clear, the Bar-tailed Godwit pictured above is not, to my knowledge, the one that set the age record. Here are a few more old birds:
Many of the 16 new record-breakers are water birds. A turnstone was found dead in Co Louth in Ireland 22 years after it was ringed in Clywd, north Wales. It beats the previous record by two years. A common gull ringed in Ireland was found aged 25, breaking the previous record of 22 years.

One lesser whitethroat was found with a tag showing it was nine years old, two years more than the previous record. The bird typically travels 5,000 miles each year between Britain and east Africa or the Middle East.

The record-breakers are not the oldest known bird species, however. The Manx shearwater, a water bird that migrates between Britain and the coast of South America, holds the British record at 49 years.
The full list of recent records does not appear to be on the BTO website just yet. (I will add a link if I find out otherwise.) Old birds do not just live in Europe, of course. The Bird Banding Laboratory keeps lists of longevity records for every banded species. Here are the ten oldest birds in the BBL database:
  1. Laysan Albatross - 50 years and 8 months
  2. Black-footed Albatross - 40 years 8 months
  3. Great Frigatebird - 38 years 2 months
  4. White Tern - 35 years 11 months
  5. Sooty Tern - 35 years 10 months
  6. Wandering Albatross - 34 years 7 months
  7. Arctic Tern - 34 years
  8. Red-tailed Tropicbird - 32 years 8 months
  9. Black-browed Albatross - 32 years 5 months
  10. Atlantic Puffin - 31 years 11 months
As with the British list, this list is dominated by waterbirds, specifically pelagic species. Some bird banding sites such as Rouge River Bird Observatory may post their own age records.