Europe and Central Asia
24 Jun 2016

World's oldest tagged Terek Sandpiper discovered in Belarus

The Terek Sandpiper's tracking band shows the bird is 17 years old. © APB
By Sanya Khetani-Shah

It was a regular day in the field for ornithologists at the birds ringing station in the Turau Meadow, Belarus on 13 May, 2016. That is, until they caught a Terek Sandpiper.

While this is cause for excitement in itself (the species is rare in Belarus; there’s even a sculpture of it in the neighbouring town of Turov), what really caused researchers and birdwatchers to take notice was the band on the bird’s leg: it showed that the bird was 17 years old, the oldest of its kind in the world, with 200.000 kilometres of flight under its belt (or wing).

Ornithologists from the Academy of Sciences of Belarus discovered that this Terek Sandpiper was banded as a chick in a meadow near the village of Zapesochye on 21 June, 1999 – the year the Turau meadow ringing station was founded. Since then, ‘meetings’ have occurred between the bird and ornithologists during recatching in 2005, 2011 and now in 2016.

Before this discovery, the known maximum age of a tagged Terek Sandpiper was 16 years (that bird was found in Finland). The Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) of Turau Meadow seems to be a favourite spot for the seniors of the species: recently, two other Terek Sandpipers – 14 and 15-year-old birds – were caught there, said Pavel Pinchuk, director of the Belarusian birds ringing centre.

The 17-year-old Terek Sandpiper again draws our attention to the banding of birds to learn more about them and their migration patterns.

In recent years, there have been more and more opinions that banding as a way of studying birds is becoming outdated and is no longer effective enough. Metal bands are being replaced by modern equipment.

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However, any transmitter fixed to birds and transmitting signals will never stay alive as long as a simple band; the lifespan of a transmitter is usually only a few years and it can fall prey to technical issues. Finding a bird with a 17-year-old band still attached to it shows that this method’s importance cannot be underestimated.

The fact that this old Terek Sandpiper came back to the same spot more than once for the last 17 years also shows that it is vital for birds to have a safe site that they can return to. The Turau Meadow IBA is home to thousands of waders and other wetland birds.

APB (Birdlife in Belarus) is working hard to ensure it stays that way: a management plan has been developed for this territory and volunteers clear the flood plain of the river Pripyat of bushes every summer. The Waders’ Festival also takes place on 1 May every year, and it raises awareness among locals and city visitors about the importance of preserving this unique avian habitat. 

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe.

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on the ECA section of this website are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe.