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Yarmouth-bred Tern's miracle long life

PUBLISHED: 18:34 08 April 2010 | UPDATED: 17:22 30 June 2010

They say cats have nine lives but Little Terns it appears have even more.

For bird experts have hailed as remarkable the heroic survival effort of a rare seabird ringed in Great Yarmouth and found alive and well on the sun-drenched beaches of Senegal 14 years later.

They say cats have nine lives but Little Terns it appears have even more.

For bird experts have hailed as remarkable the heroic survival effort of a rare seabird ringed in Great Yarmouth and found alive and well on the sun-drenched beaches of Senegal 14 years later.

Having defied the odds to even fledge successfully it has plied its regular “beat” which stretches 2000 miles from North Denes to Africa for more than a decade dodging predators and all the hazards of long-haul travel to raise its brood on Yarmouth's shingly shore, always returning to the same spot.

Like every chick born at the colony - Britain's largest - it was ringed by the East Norfolk Ringing Group, who record its unique identification number and date, and weigh and measure it.

And this week Rev Arthur Bowles, of Onslow Avenue, Yarmouth, received with great excitement a recovery slip from the Thetford-based British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) telling him that a bird he ringed on June 29 1995 had been found in Samone, Senegal in April last year - meaning that every year since the loyal visitor has been making the journey from Africa to Yarmouth and back.

Erica Howe RSPB spokesman said: “The biggest threat to them is most likely to be availability of nest sites when they reach our shores. Although things like lack of food supplies and weather on their journey will most certainly affect their survival rate in migration.

“Nesting birds on beaches such as little terns are incredibly sensitive to disturbance which certainly affects the chicks' chances of survival even before they've left the nest. Their eggs and chicks are so well camouflaged they can be near invisible.

“The average age isn't too widely reported, but the oldest little tern recorded by the BTO was 17 years and nine months. Little terns travel southward to the Atlantic seaboard of West Africa for the winter and so are used to travelling long journeys, however the little tern is the smallest of the UK's terns so this journey is likely to be pretty tough!

“I think it's safe to say that whatever the age of a bird, knowing that a bird you have ringed has tuned up that far away and has lived for as long as fifteen years is fairly remarkable.”

Mr Bowles said he was astounded at the Little Tern's longevity, adding that it proved the importance of ringing to track the movement, condition and age of birds.

Wardens, volunteers and a host of organisations involved with the colony will soon be putting out the welcome mat for this year's arrivals, helping them to nest safely and return with their chicks to Africa. Mr Bowles thanked everyone involved in the continuing effort to protect the colony, among them Kevan Brett, David Parsons, Tony Leggett, Gary Trett, Justin Walker, the RSPB, BTO and borough council.

Ten bird facts

The most yolks ever found in a chicken egg was nine

The oldest caged dove lived with his owner in Germany for nearly 32 years

The Birdman of Alcatraz was so-named because of his hobby breeding canaries during an earlier imprisonment. He never kept any birds during his spell on the island off San Francisco.

The world's smallest flying bird is the Bee Humming Bird at 5.7cms long

The Peregrine Falcon is the fastest moving bird at 320km per hour.

Swifts build the most sophisticated nests which form the basis of the Chinese delicacy birds nest soup, the bird's saliva which binds it said to be rich in minerals.

Flamingos are born grey but become pink because of shrimp diet.

Fictional spy James Bond was named after an ornithologist - the author Ian Fleming said he wanted the “simplest, dullest, plainest,” name.

The bird with the smelliest nest is the Eurasian Hoopoe, to deter predators.

The flightless Do-do found only on Mauritius in the Indian Surgeon was related to the pigeon. The word do-do means dull-witted, slow-reacting person.


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