For about a decade I studied Common and Roseate Terns nesting on Long Island, and followed them as they were foraging at sea. I was studying their relationships with the fish they ate, including where and how they found fish in the ocean. During that time we also studied their breeding success, survival, and growth in their breeding colonies. To do so we individually marked thousands of birds with numbered leg bands. We banded many chicks, and also banded adults at their nests.
The mail recently brought a letter from the official U.S. Bird Banding Laboratory. It informed me that in July, researchers on Great Gull Island off the North Fork of Long Island encountered a nesting Common Tern that I had first banded as an adult in 1984. Because they don’t breed until age 2, this bird is at least 27 years old. I was so surprised I had to look at the letter several times to make sure I was reading the dates right. I also called the folks on Great Gull to double-check. It was all correct.
The previous oldest known Common Tern was 25. But, also last month, researchers on Great Gull Island encountered a 28 year old Common Tern. That’s the new record. Both of these finds are extraordinary. I suppose I would have loved to say “I” held the record. But the achievement is entirely the birds’, and they deserve celebrating to have lived so long against the odds and through good and bad years of food and weather, and so many migrations to South America and back.
It’s good to know that among all the gloom and doom we hear, seabirds are still setting survival records.