I recently read in The Washington Post that the oldest known wild bird, an albatross named Wisdom, had amazed scientists when she produced a chick at the ripe old age of 62. This now rather famous albatross was first banded back in 1956 at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Hawaiian Islands. While reading the article I couldn’t help but wonder what the longevity records are for some of the bird species common to our area.
Out of curiosity I looked up the longevity of some of the more common wild birds on the website of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Here are the record longevities for a few of our better known birds: Canada goose 33 years; great horned owl 28 years, common loon and great blue heron 24 years, blue jay 17 years, American robin 13 years, downy woodpecker and black capped chickadee 11 years, ruby throated hummingbirds, house wrens, and white-breasted nuthatches 9 years, and western meadowlark 6 years. Generally there is a correlation between longevity and body size, with larger birds tending to live longer, but it is certainly not exact.
Obtaining information on the longevity of birds is not an easy task. Much of the longevity data has been compiled from bird banding studies. For those of you unfamiliar with this practice, a metal leg band is put on the bird after being live-trapped. If the bird is recaptured, or as in the case of a game bird, harvested by a hunter, the band may be recovered and the longevity determined.
Of course few birds will survive to the ripe old record age for their species. For example the record longevity for robins is 13 years, but the average life span is around 2 years. Some studies have found that only about one-fourth of the robins make it through their first summer. However, once a bird reaches adulthood, mortality factors generally level off, and may range from as high as 70% to as low as 3%, with the percentage dropping as life expectancy increases.
Here is the link to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center’s “Longevity Records of North American Birds.”
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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