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Time Not Up Yet For No 57

Bird On! News
22nd September 1996

On the 19th July 1951 George Dunnet ringed an adult female Fulmar. Sadly Professor George Dunnet died late last year but not the Fulmar, known in the long-term study, as No 57.

She has returned to the breeding ledge again in 1996 and so it is 45 years since she was ringed - as an adult. Since Fulmars do not breed until they are six or seven years old, No. 57 is more than 50 years old. This is the oldest ringed wild bird known in the World. There is a Royal Albatross in New Zealand that may beat her yet - they breed every other year and we will not know whether she is still alive until next winter.

Many of the very oldest known wild birds are seabirds which lay single eggs and have very long pre-breeding periods. The Fulmar is breeding on the deserted island of Eynhallow in Rousay Sound where the Aberdeen University study is continuing with Dr. Peter Cosgrove in charge. This bird has worn out several rings and her first, made of aluminium, would not have lasted more than three or four years. They used to suffer from corrosion as well as severe abrasion against the rocks of the nesting site. Modern material have been developed for nautical use and to make components of aircraft. A spin-off is that these are now available for bird rings and her current ring would possibly last for another 15 to 25 years.

Rather few birds are involved in this study compared with the total British population of this species at well over a million. It is possible that some of these are over 100! The birds look exactly the same whether they are mere striplings in their teens or real ancient old things. There was a suggestion made by Dr. Bill Bourne that birds in the huge colony on St. Kilda, way out in the Atlantic off Western Scotland, which were exhibiting very peculiar moults might be really old. However in general there is very little evidence for ageing processes to affect birds in the wild.

The oldest known bird ever was a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo at London Zoo who died in 1982 aged 80 or more. Cocky, as he was called, had problems with his moults over the last few years and did not grow enough feathers so he spent his time well wrapped up in a cummerbund!

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