There came something of a surprise with a recent email from the BTO.
The message concerned an Oystercatcher found dead by a member of the public at our ringing site near Oakenclough on 18th April 2018. The bombshell was the fact that our Oystercatcher had died at the grand old age of 22 years, 7990 days after being ringed at the same place on 2nd June 1996.
This is a site where a number of pairs Oystercatchers breed every year, an inland and upland location with a reservoir where the Oystercatchers nest on the rocky shores dependent upon water levels but also in adjacent fields. Even my memory of ringing occasions doesn't stretch back 22 years so I looked up the original ringing data on our Fylde Ringing Group database and there it was. Ring number FR86494, ringed as a chick, one of two youngsters on 2 June 1996.
I searched my memory bank recalled the day as an occasion when three of us (Gary, Bob and me) called in at Oakenclough to ring a nest of three Yellowhammer chicks and 5 Willow Warbler chicks found a week or so earlier.
As we motored out of the site at the entrance we spotted a pair adult Oystercatchers with two chicks so stopped to complete a successful excursion with a little bonus. Sadly, the Yellowhammers were the last ones ringed at the site as it became very overgrown with rhododendron resulting in the area becoming unsuitable for a number of species.
Although 22 years is a good age, it’s not quite the longevity record for Oystercatchers. The oldest known Oystercatcher was ringed as a chick in 1970 and later found in 2010, on the same beach in Cumbria, not too many miles from Lancashire. At that time, it was already 40 years, one month and 2 days old.
Despite the known longevity of the species Oystercatchers are a vulnerable and Amber-listed in the UK. From the BTO - Breeding Bird Surveys since 1994, which include birds in a broader range of locations and habitats, show strong increase in England but a significant, moderate decline in Scotland. The increase in nest failure rates during the 27-day egg stage probably results from the spread of the species into less favourable habitats, where nest losses through predation or trampling may be more likely. There has been widespread moderate decline across Europe since 1980.
There is a moral to this story. It is that where possible, everyone should always look at dead birds and examine the legs as there may be a ring, British BTO or a foreign scheme. High quality metal rings are designed to be long lasting so that the inscription does not easily wear and may be legible for the lifespan of the bird and longer. The information resulting from finding and reporting a ringed bird, dead or alive is very valuable to science.