According to the New York Times, the oldest known wild bird in the United States, is an albatross. “Wisdom, a Laysan albatross who lives in the in the Pacific northwest of the main Hawaiian island, is 60 years old. Among birds in the wild, albatrosses are believed to be the species that live longest. So far the oldest known wild bird was a Northern Royal albatross, which is native only to the Southern Hemisphere. Grandma, as she was known, lived 61 years before researchers lost sight of her a few years back; she is presumed dead.”
Albatrosses, terns, penguins and some other seabirds seem to live 30-50 years, eagles 20-25 years, hawks 8-20 years. Most songbirds might live 8-12 years, hummingbirds 6-8 years, and warblers 3-6 years. Some individual records of known longevity of wild birds are: American Crow 15 years, American Robin 12 years, Barn Swallow 16 years, American Coot 19 years, Golden Eagle 25 years, House Sparrow 13 years, Osprey 32 years, European Starling 20 years, Cedar Waxwing 13 years, and Wild Turkey 15 years.
The maximum known ages of some captive birds are: Andean Condor 77 years, Herring Gull 44 years, House Sparrow 23 years, European Starling 17 years, and the Sulfur-crested Cockatoo 80 years.
Birds lead a difficult life. For most migratory songbirds, the chances of making it from egg to adult in their first year is 25% or less. For adult songbirds, the annual mortality rate is pretty high. Some examples: American Robin 50%, California Quail, 50%, European Staring 53%, American Coot 63% and Song Sparrow 73%. This means that a Song Sparrow hatched in the summer of 2010 has a 25% chance of reaching adulthood in 2011 and a 27% chance of living to the summer of 2012. Put another way, the bird has a mere 6% chance of surviving to the age of two!
The mortality rate of birds in general, according to The Bird Almanac, where I got some of the above figures is pretty high. There are accidents, diseases, loss of food sources due to habitat destruction, and so on. Human related causes of bird mortality exceeds 800 million birds each year in the United States. Major causes are hunting (120 million birds killed), window collisions (80 million), road kills (57 million), and domestic cats (500 million!).
According to the National Audubon Society, “Since 1967 the average population of the common birds in steepest decline has fallen by 68 percent; some individual species nose-dived as much as 80 percent. All 20 birds on the national Common Birds In Decline list lost at least half their populations in just four decades.” The decline of each of these species has a different cause or set of causes – global warming and habitat destruction being the most significant reasons.
I applaud the Nature Conservancy and organizations the like Northern California Regional Land Trust for their efforts in protecting habitats not only for the birds but for all species we share the planet with.
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