The flight fantastic: secret, longer life of birds is revealed
Tuesday 03 January 2006
An international study has forced a radical revision of the life expectancy of several species after birds, some wearing alloy leg rings fitted more than 30 years ago, were discovered living well beyond previously recorded ages.
Staff at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) have been exchanging details with colleagues and birdwatchers around the world to compile their latest report into the habits of a variety of species, all of which have been fitted with rings to help trace their movements.
One barnacle goose at Caerlaverock reserve on the Solway Firth, near Dumfries, south-west Scotland, was found to be wearing a ring which was fitted 27 years earlier, making it at least two and a half years older than the previous highest age recorded for that species.
Taking into account annual spring and autumn migrations between the Solway and its breeding grounds on the Svalbard islands, between northern Norway and the North Pole, scientists calculate that the bird has covered at least 150,000 miles during its life.
Scientists also discovered a tufted duck which was shot in Russia's Salavatskiy district 22 years after being ringed when just a few months old in Lincolnshire, 2,200 miles away. The previous record for the species was 17 years, nine months and 24 days.
The new records are the result of an international effort to ring and trace an ever greater volume of birds.
In 2004 volunteers caught and ringed more than in any other year since ringing started in Britain in 1909. BTO volunteers put rings on 882,000 adults and nestlings in 2004, beating the previous record of 859,000, set in 1995.
In addition to recording the longevity of birds such as a 36-year-old oystercatcher, ringed in Norfolk in 1968, and a razorbill, ringed in 1962 in Gwynedd, scientists also investigated which bird species travelled the farthest.
Among the most travelled birds was a storm petrel which travelled almost 6,000 miles in its seasonal migrations after being ringed in Yell Sound, Shetland, in July 1982, and caught at sea off Namibia's coast in February 2004.
In addition they calculated that a common tern, ringed on Seal Sands, Teesmouth, in 2003, and found in Lambert's Bay, South Africa, in June 2004, had flown 6,100 miles.
Although smaller woodland birds are shorter-lived, their longevity also appears to be increasing after a starling was found dead in Novgorod, Russia, more than 17 years after being ringed as a youngster in Suffolk - 16 months more than the previous record.
Jacquie Clark, who heads the BTO ringing scheme, said: "Producing the Ringing Report is always exciting, but to break so many records in one year is tremendous. Unlike humans, birds don't spend a long time going through middle and old age. After maturing, they remain in good shape for most of the rest of their lives."
Ms Clark said that it was only once birds fell below par physically that they tended not to last long, losing the essential bit of speed necessary to escape predators. Long migrations also increasingly sapped energy, while cold winters had more serious consequences.
"While in peak form they keep going," said Ms Clark. "In the case of seabirds, we've already reported a Manx shearwater that's in its fifties, and the 42-year-old razorbill, both still returning to their Welsh colonies to nest.
"Oystercatchers, one of our largest waders, are another example. The longest known time between one being ringed and found has just passed 36 years - the bird in question could now be into its forties."
Ms Clark said that the ringing of birds was providing a wealth of information on how migration patterns are changing, even though, on average, fewer than one out of every 50 birds ringed is subsequently reported to the BTO.
"I should also like to thank the thousands of people each year who contact the BTO to tell us about ringed birds they find," Ms Clark said.
- 1 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 2 This is what the photographer has to say about the picture of a weasel riding a woodpecker
- 3 Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
- 4 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
- 5 Average penis size revealed: Scientists attempt to find what is 'normal' to reassure concerned men
Bill Clinton portrait features Monica Lewinsky reference, artist admits
Japanese island overrun with cats after population explodes
Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
Pornhub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
The 'sex selfie stick' lets you FaceTime the inside of a vagina
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...
£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...
£38000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This B2B content marketing agen...
£50000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: An outstanding new...