Bird banding recoveries permit biologists to determine how long each bird has survived in the wild. While biologists and scientists are more interested in the average life span of a species, it is also interesting to see how long it is possible for birds to live. And some species are surprisingly long-lived.

Here are the ten longest-lived species, as determined from the date when the bird was first banded and the last date the bird was re-captured or found dead.

  1. Atlantic Puffin – 31 years 11 months
  2. Black-browed Albatross – 32 years 5 months
  3. Red-tailed Tropicbird – 32 years 8 months
  4. Arctic Tern – 34 years
  5. Wandering Albatross – 34 years 7 months
  6. Sooty Tern – 35 years 10 months
  7. White Tern – 35 years 11 months
  8. Great Frigatebird – 38 years 2 months
  9. Black-footed Albatross – 40 years 8 months

And the record for the longest-lived wild bird:

  1. Laysan Albatross – 50 years and 8 months

What is interesting about this list is that seven of these species spend most of their life at sea, coming to land only to breed. The puffin, tropicbird, frigatebird and albatrosses are all magnificently adapted for life on the open ocean, and less-suited for moving about on land.

The three tern species also spend much of their lives on the ocean but remain closer to land, and have been recorded along oceanic shorelines outside of their breeding season.

It is also amazing to consider that the Arctic Tern has been known to live at least 34 years in the wild when its breeding range is in arctic Canada and its winter range extends from the coast of South Africa down to the waters around Antarctica. This gives the Arctic Tern the longest annual migration of any species on earth, a round-trip of about 24,000 miles.

(Information for this article was obtained from: Klimkiewicz, M. K. 2008. Longevity Records of North American Birds. Version 2008.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Bird Banding Laboratory. Laurel, MD.)