Age records include an eagle owl that was 68

A pheasant.

A pheasant.

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COCKY Bennett was 120 when he died. He was shrivelled and all his feathers had fallen out years ago. He is thought to be the oldest bird known. He was a sulphur-crested cockatoo and lived in a cage in Sydney. Now all live such sheltered lives.

I once saw a goldcrest-Britain’s smallest bird bar the firecrest- drop dead in flight. It was flying across a meadow in Kingley Vale. Suddenly it just closed its wings. I picked it up expecting to see a wound, but it seemed in perfect condition.

Earlier this month 3,000 red-winged blackbirds fell out of the sky at Beebe in Arkansas. They were thought to have been scared by fireworks and hit objects they could not see in the dark.

Twenty years ago, 87 pinkfooted geese fell out of the sky in North Norfolk. Many were picked up by Lord Buxton who lived nearby. He said there were no marks on the birds, but there had been a thunderstorm and the geese may have been within the clouds.

Could they have been close to a lightning bolt that passed between them all? Lightning forces the air apart along its length to a width of about a foot. Immediately the flow of electricity has gone, the air returns into the vacuum causing an implosion, which is thunder.

WWI poet Edward Thomas was killed by a shell passing close to his head, the air returning into the tunnel caused by the passing of the missile, possibly creating a vacuum which sucked the air from his lungs.

A friend who is a wildfowler on the Essex marshes shot a mallard which had a paper-thin aluminium ring on its leg. The number could be deciphered and showed the drake to be 20 years of age. He was lucky in such a well shot place.

There have been some amazing escapes in such a dangerous world as the sky. Authenticated records include an eagle owl that was 68, a cockatoo (not the famous Cocky Bennett about who there may be questions) who pegged out at 56, a bataleur eagle of 55, a vasa parrot of 54, an Adean condor of 52 and a white pelican of 52 also.

The peregrines on Chichester cathedral are thought to be nearing the end at about 13 years. But there was a known red kite of 25, buzzard of 24, oystercatcher of 22.5, blackheaded gull of 30.5, curley of 31.5 and a glaucous-winged gull of 20.5. Obviously all these had died in the winter having been rung with numbered bands as chicks.

At the big winter roosts of starlings at Brighton and in Norfolk, a dozen starlings die of old age each night. Even some tiny birds such as marsh tit, greenfinch sparrow and reed warbler have been known to live for ten years. The average is three. The shortest lives nowadays are pheasants, which call it a day at two years of age, if they have not already fallen to gun at the age of six months.