Longevity Records of North American Birds
Last updated November 2016
How long can a bird live? What is the oldest banded bird? These commonly asked questions can be answered using bird banding data. The oldest bird ever banded is not necessarily of great value to those studying the age structure of a population, but it is of interest to many people. For researchers interested in the demographics of a species, the mean or average lifespan or age structure of a population are much more meaningful.
While no bander goes out to study the maximum lifespan of a species as the only reason for their banding, every bander can contribute to this information. The information on life span is collected every time a banded bird is reported to the Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL) in Laurel, Maryland. The maximum longevity record cannot be longer than the time span that researchers have been studying that species, and the lifespan of the bands used on birds was shorter than the lifespan of the birds for some species. Most banders that are working on species with long lifespans are using a harder metal band that will last as long as the bird lives. We are still learning a lot about how long some species can survive in the wild.
The list includes all longevity records (for wild birds only) for North American and Central Pacific species known to the BBL as they have been submitted and verified and is a chronology of documented longevity records. If a record is submitted which exceeds a previous longevity record but not the current one, it is not included on this site. If a researcher wants to know ages of all birds for any species based on submitted encounter records, they can submit a data request by clicking here.
In many instances, only records for birds 4 years old or older have been used, so not all species are represented.
Ages are not given for the upland resident game birds (Species Numbers 2890 through 3110), as the BBL has not issued bands for these species for many years. All banding of this group is handled through the states and provinces. Some species are also lacking because the longevity record is in the process of getting verified. As this occurs, the website will be updated.
If banders have returns that are older than those listed or for species not listed, please report to BBL using the BBL web site by clicking here. Be sure to give all the pertinent information so that we can process the record into the BBL files. If you are checking your recoveries for longevity records, please remember that we do not use encounters for which we cannot obtain the encounter date or encounters of band or band and bone only.
This list will be updated quarterly or as needed.
It is important to know how the minimum age is calculated. It is based on the age of the bird at banding (which tells us the year or latest possible year of hatching) and the date of subsequent retrap or recovery. We assume a June hatching date for all species, or the month of banding if the bird is a hatch year or local bird and the banding month is earlier than June-- this works very well for most species and makes it possible to compare species or groups of species more easily. June is therefore assumed to be month 00 with July month 01, August 02, etc. For example, a bird banded as an SY (second year) in July 1990 and encountered in August 1997 would be 8 years and 02 months of age since it hatched in 1989.
For more information on how a bird's age at banding is classified, click here.
For a more detailed explanation for how the minimum age at encounter is calculated, click here.
Unusual encounter dates
Some encounter dates may look unusual, such as 6/99/1984 or 94/99/1977. The BBL utilizes "inexact" dates when a reporter does not know the exact day, month or year they encountered the bird. To learn how to interpret dates that are greater than 12 in the months field or 31 in the day field, click here.
Please use the citations at the end for all longevity records contained in those papers. For records not in those five papers, please cite this Page as:
Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. 2016. Longevity Records of North American Birds. Version 2016.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Bird Banding Laboratory. Laurel MD.
A series of five papers that list minimum age records have been published since 1982 in the Journal of Field Ornithology (citations given below). The last paper was published in 1989 and there have been many additions and/or corrections to previously published records. A list, maintained by the Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL), is attached for your use.
Clapp, R. B., M. K. Klimkiewicz, and J. H. Kennard. 1982. Longevity records of North American birds: Gaviidae through Alcidae. J. Field Ornithol. 53(2):81-124.
Clapp, R. B., M. K. Klimkiewicz, and A. G. Futcher. 1983. Longevity records of North American Birds: Columbidae through Paridae. J. Field Ornithol. 54(2):123-137.
Klimkiewicz, M. K., R. B. Clapp, and A. G. Futcher. 1983. Longevity records of North American Birds: Remizidae through Parulinae. J. Field Ornithol. 54(3):287-294.
Klimkiewicz, M. K. and A. G. Futcher. 1987. Longevity records of North American Birds: Coerebinae through Estrilididae. J. Field Ornithol. 58(3):318-333.
Klimkiewicz, M. K. and A. G. Futcher. 1989. Longevity records of North American Birds: Supplement I. J. Field Ornithol. 60(4):469-494.