As a hummingbird bander, I frequently get asked how long hummingbirds live
at the programs that I give.  And, I have a pretty standard answer.
Ruby-throated males that survive their first year live 2-3 years on average,
and females 3-5 years.  There's the occasional bird that lives longer, but
that's the average.

Well, yesterday I got to meet one of those occasional birds that survive

I was banding hummingbirds in my yard as part of an annual all day banding
session I try to do about this time in August each year.  It looked like it
was about to rain and I was thinking about ending the banding session when a
bird went into one of my traps.    After I caught it, I saw it was an adult
female that was already banded, which is pretty typical this time of year
(about 1/2 of the 59 birds I caught yesterday were already banded by me
earlier in the year or previous years).  But, this was an old band.  After
checking my records, I realized that this bird was originally banded on May
31, 1998!  Since the bird was an adult when it was banded in 1998, it had
hatched in 1997 or before.

Now you may not realize it, but how ages of birds are calculated has been
standardized so that different researchers can compare ages successfully
with each other.  In the United States, all birds are assumed to have a
birthday on June 1st each year (and I bet you forgot to bake a cake,
right?).  So, a bird that hatches in 2003 will be one year old on June 1,
2004.  And in July it will be one year and two months, etc.  This is a
system that works remarkably well, although it can be a bit awkward for a
few species in Texas and California that breed during the winter, and
completely breaks down in Hawaii.

Anyway, computing the age according to this system, the hummingbird I caught
yesterday was at least 7 years and 2 months old, and possibly older if it
hatched before 1997.  Now, this isn't a world record for the oldest
hummingbird, but it is significant.  It so happens that I maintain the
unofficial longevity charts for hummingbirds that all hummingbird banders
use.  Checking the chart, this record will be the 6th oldest Ruby-throated
hummingbird that has been recorded.  The oldest Ruby-throated hummingbird
unofficial record was 10 years and 2 months (the official record is 9 years
and 1 month), so it will be a while until the hummingbird I caught reaches
that age.

Although this was the first time for me to capture this bird in 2004, she is
one of my regular resident birds which I presume to breed in the area, and I
have had previous recaptures of her on the following dates:


She looked fit and in good condition.  I look forward to capturing her for a
few more years.  Three more and she'll be a contender for that oldest
Ruby-throated hummingbird on record....

If you are interested, the Bird Banding Laboratory maintains a list of the
oldest bird recorded for each species.  The paper is:  Klimkiewicz, M. K.
2002. Longevity Records of North American Birds. Version 2002.1. Patuxent
Wildlife Research Center. Bird Banding Laboratory. Laurel MD., and it is
available at:

Below are the official records for hummingbirds from the list (the age
follows the species name in years-months):

        Magnificent Hummingbird         7-01
        Blue-throated Hummingbird       6-11
        Ruby-throated Hummingbird       9-01
        Black-chinned Hummingbird       7-11
        Costa's Hummingbird             9-02
        Anna's Hummingbird              8-02
        Broad-tailed Hummingbird        12-02
        Rufous Hummingbird              8-01
        Allen's Hummingbird             4-00
        Calliope Hummingbird            6-01
        Lucifer Hummingbird             4-01
        Buff-bellied Hummingbird        6-01

And, if hummingbirds live longer then you thought they could, consider the
Laysan Albatross which was recorded to live 42 years and 5 months!

Troy Gordon
Columbia, MO
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