17 May 2018

How long do Red-throated Divers live for?

Dave Okill of Shetland Ringing Group writes:

On  26 April 2018, Mick Mellor was doing a routine Beached Bird Survey for SOTEAG (Shetland Oil Terminal Environmental Advisory Group), when on Urafith beach, North Mainland, Shetland he found a freshly dead Red-throated Diver (RTD) that had a ring on it. He carefully noted the number and emailed me when he got home. 

Not remembering the number, I started to look back through old, almost fading, files and I found that I had ringed it as a large chick on a small remote lochan not far from Nibon, North Mainland, on 27 July 1985. At well over 32 years old, this individual was an old bird. Looking at the BTO longevity records, the oldest-known RTD was a bird ringed in Hoy, Orkney in July 1986 and last caught at the same location in April 2015, 28 years, 9 months and 7 days later; our bird clearly beats that by some margin! Searching through North American and other longevity lists, it seems that our bird is probably the oldest RTD yet recorded anywhere.

Ringed Dead Red-throated Diver, Urafirth Beach, Shetland. Photo by Mick Mellor.

As well as demonstrating essential information on migrations, movements and dispersal, ringing also gives us the ages of different species; both the average age and the maximum age of the oldest individuals. Longevity records usually creep up slowly, so an increase in the maximum age of RTDs by four years is a notable leap. I suspect that divers are long-lived birds and this record will be well beaten in time.

The ringing site and the finding place are only a few kilometers apart and it is likely that this bird was a male returning in spring to nest in its natal area. Male divers return to breed close to the area where they fledged; females disperse widely before they breed and Mainland-ringed females have been found many kilometers from their fledging loch, up to the North Isles and as far as Orkney. Orkney females have also been found breeding in Shetland.

Red-throated Diver. Photo by Manuel Schultz/BTO.

Over the years our bird will have traveled widely but we only know two points in this bird's life. To help us understand divers better, JNCC are promoting a project to discover what divers are doing, especially on their wintering grounds, now especially important with the proliferation of vast off-shore wind farms which displace wintering and moulting birds from their traditional areas. Birds from Orkney, Shetland, Finland and Iceland will be investigated.  

Editor's note: all recoveries of ringed birds help to further our knowledge, so if you find a bird ring, please report the details at www.ring.ac

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