Seabird born in Summer of Love still breeding in Wales

  • @mjpmccarthy

A seabird that hatched in the Summer of Love – 1967 – is still breeding on the Welsh cliff where it was born, 41 years later. Hippies were wearing flowers in their hair and the Beatles were singing "All You Need Is Love" when the bird, a razorbill, emerged from its egg on the island of Bardsey off the Lleyn Peninsula in North Wales.

But four decades on, with hippies and their creed virtually forgotten, and the Beatles now part of musical history, the same bird is still going strong on its cliff, having outlived its species' typical lifespan of 13 years by more than 200 per cent.

It is the longest-lived razorbill known, and its longevity is proved by the fact that it was ringed as a chick, and when examined on Bardsey this summer, was found to be still carrying the leg ring with its unique number.

The razorbill is one of 12 record-breaking long-lived birds reported yesterday by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) in the journal Ringing and Migration, with the age of all of them established by ringing. They include a 31-year-old curlew, a 20-year-old turnstone and a 13-year-old barn owl, as well as a black-headed gull which has been flying for 27 years around the parks of central London – it was ringed in Hyde Park in 1981 and its ring number was re-read in St James's Park this year.

Although the oldest of its kind, the 41-year-old razorbill is not the oldest-known bird in the world. That distinction belongs to another seabird, a Manx shearwater, which is also an inhabitant of Bardsey.

When it was recaptured and its ring number read on the island this summer it was proved to be 54 or possibly 55 years old. It was first ringed in 1957, and as it was ringed as an adult, and Manx shearwaters do not return to their native island to breed until they are at least three years old, its age must be 51 plus at least three years.

In winter, Manx shearwaters migrate to waters off Argentina and Uruguay, a round trip of about 9,000 miles, and with long foraging trips in the summer breeding season, the trust estimates a bird may fly at least 32,000 miles in a year. It also estimates that the 54 to 55-year- old bird on Bardsey may have flown 1.8 million miles – almost equivalent to four round trips to the moon and back. "There's not an awful lot of predation pressure on seabirds, which is why some of them can live so long," said the trust's Mark Grantham.

"If you can survive the period of being a chick, and figure out where to get your food in the first winter, and then survive fishermen's nets and oil spills, you've got a reasonable chance of living a hell of a long time."

The older birds were recorded on Bardsey because the island has had a bird observatory with continuous ringing for more than half a century.

The island's Manx shearwater was the oldest known bird in the world, Mr Grantham said, but the performance of the razorbill in living to 41 was "absolutely phenomenal".

"We might even see it hit 50," he said. "I'd be surprised – but then I'm surprised that it's passed 40."