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How long do blackbirds live?

Sent in by Rita Jones, Lincolnshire

Blackbirds are relatively short-lived birds with a life expectancy of only 3.4 years. Of course this is only the average life expectancy and the actual age of an individual blackbird is highly variable with many not surviving their first year whilst the oldest blackbird recorded was 20 years and 3 months old.

It has been possible to discover this kind of information thanks to bird ringing projects, which allow individual birds to be identified. Around 800,000 birds are ringed each year in Britain and Ireland by bird ringers, many working voluntarily, who have been highly trained to ensure the birds are unharmed by the process. 

Different techniques are used according to the kind of bird that is being ringed, but most birds are trapped using special nets and a small lightweight ring with a unique number is fitted around the leg. Young birds can also be ringed at the nest. A record is made of the time and location where the bird was ringed as well as other measurements such as age and weight, so that if the bird is ever found again it can be traced.

The rings are small so they won’t impede the bird but it does mean that the ring number is almost impossible to read without recapturing the bird or finding it dead, so a lot of ringed birds are never found again. 

Ringing has allowed ornithologists to discover invaluable life history information on many species such as the kind of habitats they require and where they go if they migrate. Knowing this kind of information can greatly aid conservation efforts.

If you ever do find a ringed wild bird and can get the ring number, you can use the contact details on the ring or report it to the British Trust for Ornithology and assist with monitoring our bird populations. 

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