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British birds' long-distance feats and longevity are revealed

Flying around the world may have become an unappealing prospect or a distant dream for most people during the coronavirus crisis.

If you are a Manx shearwater, however, there is no limit to your long-distance travel, and one of these small seabirds was last year clocked journeying more than 7,564 miles from its Scottish breeding colony to the seaside resort of Las Grutas in Argentina.

An arctic skua from Scotland flew to Brazil – a straight line of 6,845 miles – while a swallow covered at least 6,400 to reach South Africa. A sanderling and a sandwich tern also made journeys of a similar length from Britain to South Africa.


Swallows

The records were collected thanks to uniquely numbered rings fitted by volunteers to more than 1 million birds in Britain during 2019, enabling individuals to be identified for the rest of their lives.

The records, collected by the British Trust for Ornithology, provide insights into the remarkable migrations of birds but also the human and climatic pressures they face – and their longevity.

A siskin captured and ring-checked near the village of Tarbet in Argyll and Bute was found to have been ringed at the same site in 2010, making it the oldest known individual of its species.

“Without fitting birds with uniquely numbered rings and monitoring their nests we wouldn’t be able to follow their lives and our knowledge of them would be much poorer,” said Rob Robinson of the BTO.

Of 1,047,521 ringed birds, the most-ringed species was the blue tit, not known for its epic migrations. Second was the blackcap, traditionally a summer migrant which is now increasingly seen during winter because of global heating and the lure of garden bird feeders.


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