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October 19, 2022

The Bird Banding Lab recently got a report of an amazing banding recovery!  A Cape May warbler that was banded at the lab’s fall migration station in 2013 was found this September in Pennsylvania, shattering the longevity record at a remarkable 9 years old! Unfortunately, this warbler will not be able to continue her journey south as she was found dead after striking a window.

The Eastern Ecological Science Center’s Bird Banding Lab’s fall migration station at the Patuxent Research Refuge recently got word of an amazing banding recovery: A female Cape May warbler that was originally banded at the lab’s migration station in 2013 was found this September in Friendsville, Pennsylvania. This warbler was a remarkable 9 years old when she was found!

This bird shatters the longevity record for Cape May warblers in the lab’s 100-year-old banding database, with the previous record holder being only 4 years and 3 months old. A longevity record is the oldest individual known for a particular species and helps us gain a better understanding of species’ lifespans.  

Danny Bystrak, who recently retired from the lab and held his banding permit for 55 years, was thrilled by the discovery.  “I have had over a thousand of my birds encountered, and this is definitely the coolest one,” Bystrak said. 

You can explore the Bird Banding Lab’s longevity records here.

A gray-yellow warbler with streaking in the chest.
Cape May Warbler banded at the USGS Bird Banding Lab's Fall Migration Station.

This bird is certainly extraordinary and a welcome surprise. Along with being a longevity record holder, Cape May warblers are migratory and not commonly banded at the lab’s migration station. The lab has only banded a total of 24 Cape May warblers in the past 15 years. In addition, although the Bird Banding Lab staff and volunteers regularly recapture birds banded at the migration station, it isn’t often we get reports of our banded birds being found at other locations.

Despite the lab’s excitement for the data this encounter has provided, the story of how the bird was found is less optimistic. A homeowner in Pennsylvania discovered this warbler underneath one of her windows after the bird collided with the glass while migrating south to Mexico, Central America or the Caribbean. Collisions with structures such as buildings and glass are a major source of mortality for migratory birds. Up to 1 billion birds are killed annually from building collisions in the United States. Nearly all collisions with glass occur at low-rise buildings and at urban and rural residences, with less than 1 percent of collision mortality at high-rise buildings. Many of the bird species or families that are reported to collide most frequently with glass are also facing significant population declines and are of conservation concern. A 2019 study published in Science documenting a loss of 3 billion birds (1 in 4 birds gone) since 1970 reaffirms the need to take strong action to help birds recover. The 2022 State of the Birds report also highlights the need for Federal, state, and local governments to develop effective policies to limit collisions.

This encounter allows us to reflect on the need for scientific research to better understand the threats to birds from building Collisions and which actions need to be taken to reduce those threats. The U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are separately and collectively exploring how to address bird collisions in North America through the data available at the USGS’s Bird Banding Lab database, fostering commitments to adopt bird-friendly standards for federal wildlife agency buildings, and coordinating to further develop and share resources on monitoring, mitigating, and reducing bird collisions. You can read more about steps the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is taking steps to reduce bird collisions at their facilities.