Bird Longevity Revealed by Local Study

By Kay Lookingbill


We have been banding birds one morning each month for the past 8 years at the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory in Lake Jackson. During the April session, we had a nice assortment of colorful, crowd-pleasing migratory birds that were just passing through on their journey to their breeding grounds further north. Among them were yellow-breasted chat, gray catbird, indigo bunting, northern waterthrush, wood thrush, Swainson’s thrush and common yellowthroat. It is a thought-provoking exercise to ponder where these birds spent the winter, and where they will end up for the summer.


Aside from these interesting birds, we also captured several notable breeding birds that we’d previously banded at GCBO.

Among those was an adult male Eastern Bluebird, with his beautiful deep blue head and back, and rich rusty colored chest. He was already banded, and the records revealed he was originally banded in July, 2009, at GCBO. At that time, we determined he hatched in 2008. That makes him 6 years old. When we banded him, he was helping his pretty little female mate feed their newly hatched nestlings in one of the nest boxes that are maintained on the property.

Another interesting recaptured bird was a male white-eyed vireo. This individual was banded in June, 2011, and at the time we determined he hatched no later than 2009. That makes this bird at least 5 years old. This species is a snappy little bird with an olive green back, white wing bars, yellow spectacles and a white iris for which the bird is named. This species spends the winter in Central and South America, and breeds in the eastern portion of the US, as far north as Pennsylvania. The Texas Gulf Coast is near the western edge of their breeding range. The plumage of the males and females in this species is identical, but during the breeding season there are clues we can examine to ascertain gender. In this case we were able to determine this was a male. Although this is the first time we have recaptured this particular bird, we have several records of white-eyed vireos that have returned to GCBO to nest for multiple years. If this bird follows the pattern, he has returned for at least four years in a row each spring to nest – and likely will for the remainder of his life.


And finally, a tufted titmouse that was banded in June, 2008, as a newly fledged bird, was recaptured. This bird is now 6 years old. This is a handsome little gray bird with salmon-colored flanks and white belly, and with a distinctive crest on the top of its head. The plumage of males and females are identical, and there were no definitive breeding clues, so the sex of this bird remains unknown. This species is a year-round resident. The birds that hatch here stay here and live locally for their entire life. This bird has likely found a mate every spring, and nested on the property.

This data is fascinating to those of us who study birds. Come see for yourself at our next banding session at GCBO, May 17, 8 am to noon.


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