I often get asked by beginning birders, how long does specific species live? We generally know that larger birds, once they reach maturity, live longer than small ones.
Recently there have been some surprising findings of “elderly” birds thanks to long-term mist-netting and bird-bansding projects.
First, this email from Frank Isaacs, one of Oregon’s leading eagle watchers:
“THE OLDEST BALD EAGLE – This last June, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) reported a Bald Eagle killed alongside a road in Monroe County in upstate New York. The bird, a male banded with the number 03142, had actually been an individual that had been brought to New York from Minnesota as a youngster in 1977 and released at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge as part of New York’s Bald Eagle Restoration Program . The USGS Banding Lab Longevity Records indicate that the eagle turned out to be the oldest banded Bald Eagle on record to date – older by a surprising five years. Once this 38-year-old male reached breeding age in 1981, he began nesting at Hemlock Lake, about 50 miles to the west of Minnesota NWR which is today part of Hemlock-Canadice State Forest. The Hemlock Lake nest territory continued, and this eagle became a steady and successful father to many eaglets fledged from that site for many more years. Peter Nye, the now retired DEC Wildlife Biologist who spearheaded New York’s Bald Eagle Restoration Program, commented on the bird, “His longevity, 38 years, although ingloriously cut short by a motor vehicle, is also a national record for known life-span of a wild Bald Eagle. All I can say is, hats off to you, 03142; job well done!”
And the Pt. Reyes-based Institute for Bird Populations recently published a paper on findings from their long-term banding at Yosemite National Park. Some banding stations there were begun in the early 1990s. Now with a quarter-century of data, some surprising findings…almost 40,000 birds banded over the years and over 2,000 recaptured at least once. Result: longevity records for nine species found in foothills (below 2500′ elevation) in Yosemite National Park.
The one that really got my attention was a Mountain Chickadee at Crane Flat Meadow over ten years old! That’s one tough little fellow. Other record-setters included a Lincoln’s Sparrow nearly 9 years old and a Cassin’s Vireo over eight years old, despite having to make annual migrations (which chickadees don;t have to do).
The full article was carried in the Oct-Dec issue of the journal, North American Bird Bander.