British bird ringing scheme charts the remarkable lives of our nation’s birds

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A Black Guillemot was recorded as being 24 years 10 months 15 days old. Ring number ET52126

DID YOU KNOW? More than 900,000 birds are ringed in Britain and Ireland each year by around 3,000 trained ringers, most of whom are volunteers. You can help by reporting any ringed bird you find.

In July 1997, a Black Guillemot chick was ringed in Orkney. This bird successfully fledged from its nest and lived for nearly 25 years without being seen again.

In May 2022, the bird was recaptured, still in Orkney, making it the oldest-known Black Guillemot in Britain and Ireland.

This is one of the new records that has just been published in the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) latest ringing and nest recording report, charting the remarkable lives of our birds.

Fitting uniquely numbered rings to chicks in the nest allows scientists to understand exactly how long birds live and to work out how, and potentially why, the numbers that survive change over time.

Seabirds like the Amber-listed Black Guillemot can live for a long time but do not produce many young each year. This life history strategy makes their populations particularly vulnerable to periods of increased mortality, such as those caused by Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), which has had a devastating impact on our seabird and waterbird populations over the past three summers. 

Britain and Ireland host the majority of Europe’s breeding seabirds, meaning our breeding colonies are of international importance and HPAI could threaten the global conservation status of some species.

Britain and Ireland host the majority of Europe’s breeding seabirds, meaning our breeding colonies are of international importance and HPAI could threaten the global conservation status of some species.

More positively, there are indications that some seabirds, such as Gannet, which were especially badly impacted by HPAI in 2022, may be developing immunity to the disease, but more research is needed to confirm how long this immunity might last. 

Sightings of ringed birds can be submitted to www.ring.ac

Dr Dave Leech, head of the British and Irish Ringing Scheme, says:

Ringing will play a key role in monitoring HPAI impacts, as it allows conservationists to follow the fortunes of individual birds, each with a slightly different likelihood of encountering the disease.  To date, the amazing efforts of volunteer ringers have helped BTO and the Country Agencies to identify those species and colonies that have been impacted worst by the disease and to quantify the increase in mortality rates during the outbreak. Whether HPAI is here to stay or not remains to be seen but, whatever happens, these data will prove vital in terms of managing populations and supporting their recovery.

Around 20,000 pairs of Black Guillemots breed on the rocky coasts of Ireland and north-west Britain. They are one of our most-sedentary seabirds, wintering only a short distance offshore. They are considerably smaller than Guillemots, have bright red feet and all black plumage, except for distinctive white wing patches in summer. They will sometimes breed in nest boxes located in harbour walls.

The British and Irish Ringing Scheme is organised by the BTO and funded by the BTO/JNCC partnership on behalf of the Country Agencies. More than 900,000 birds are ringed in Britain and Ireland each year by around 3,000 trained ringers, most of whom are volunteers.

You can help by reporting any ringed bird you find. The annual report on bird ringing is published in the BTO journal Ringing & Migration. For more about ringing, please visit www.bto.org/ringing.  

Details of the other new longevity records, set in 2022 (for BTO-ringed birds) appear below. In each case the record is shown after the species name, which is then followed by the ringing details (second line) and finding details (third line); the fourth line shows the distance between ringing and finding, and the time elapsed between the two. The final line shows any comments on the record and this bird.

White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons  (19 years 1 month 25 days)
Ring number 1350933 Adult Female 25-01-2003  Slimbridge Swan Pipe (Gloucestershire)
Alive (neck collar seen) 22-03-2022  Gac, Podalskie Poland
1,669 km  19 years 1 month 25 days
Previous record: 18 years 9 months 22 days

Little Egret Egretta garzetta  (16 years 6 months 15 days)
Ring number GF49953 Nestling  11-06-2006  Sowley Pond (Hampshire)
Alive (colour rings seen) 26-12-2022 Pennington (Hampshire)  
4 km   16 years 6 months 15 days
Previous record: 15 years 2 months 27 days (same bird)

Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta   (31 years 7 months 27 days)
Ring number ER2787_$2    Nestling  02-07-1990  Titchwell RSPB Reserve (Norfolk)
Alive (colour rings seen)    01-03-2022       RSPB Titchwell Marsh (Norfolk)  
0 km   31 years 7 months 27 days
***Cannot be identified to an individual – one of two. Known age of bird confirmed, but not identity.***
Previous record: 27 years 9 days

Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus  (11 years 4 months 25 days)
Ring number BV13418    First-year  14-11-2010  Lemsford (Hertfordshire)
Alive (colour rings seen) 08-04-2022   Symondshyde Farm  (Hertfordshire)  
3 km  11 years 4 months 25 days 
Previous record: 11 years 1 month 17 days (same bird)

Redshank Tringa totanus   (22 years 2 months 17 days)
DB34864    First-year   28-09-2000  Farlington Marshes  (Portsmouth)
Alive (colour rings seen) 15-12-2022  Eastney (Hampshire)  
4 km   22 years 2 months 17 daus
Previous record: 20 years 8 months 23 days

Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle  (24 years 10 months 15 days)
Ring number ET52126  Nestling 16-07-1997 North Ronaldsay (Orkney)
Caught by ringer    31-05-2022 North Ronaldsay (Orkney)  
2 km   24 years 10 months 15 days
Previous record: 24 years 8 months 19 days

Stock Dove Columba oenas  (10 years 26 days)
Ring number EL36399  Adult Male   01-06-2012   Thetford: 52°24’N 0°45’E (Norfolk)
Caught by ringer    27-06-2022  Thetford: 52°24’N 0°45’E (Norfolk)  
0 km   10 years 0 months 26 days
Previous record: 9 years 2 months 12 days

Barn Owl Tyto alba (15 years 7 months 2 days)
Ringing number GC25454    Nestling  24-08-2006 near North Wootton (Norfolk)
Freshly dead 26-03-2022   near Swaffham (Norfolk)  
29 km 15 years 7 months 2 days
Previous record: 15 years 3 months 21 days

Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax  (23 years 10 months 26 days)
Ring number ET54746 Nestling Male 18-05-1998   Site Confidential: c. 53°25’N 4°19’W (Isle of Anglesey)
Alive (colour rings seen)    13-04-2022  (Isle of Anglesey)
23 years 10 months 26 days
Previous record: 23 years 11 days

Bearded Tit Panurus biarmicus  (8 years 10 months 22 days)
Ring number D413294 Full-grown Male 29-10-2013  Tay Lodge (Perth and Kinross)
Caught by ringer    20-09-2022 Tay Lodge (Perth and Kinross)  
0 km   8 years 10 months 22 days
Previous record: 7 years 3 months

House Sparrow Passer domesticus  (13 years 8 months 22 days)
TL62834    Juvenile Male  08-07-2008 Bedwas (Caerphilly)
Alive (colour rings seen)  30-03-2022 Bedwas  (Caerphilly)  
0 km   13 years 8 months 22 days
Previous record: 12 years 8 months 27 days

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