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World's oldest common gull Marta from Estonia turns 34

On Tuesday, Marta 'celebrated' her 34th birthday. She is now considered the oldest common gull in the world.

The previous record holder was a bird from Denmark, last seen at an age of 33 years and 8 months.

Marta was hatched on the Kakrarahu islet in Matsalu National Park in western Estonia and nests in the area to this day. During this time, 10 of Marta's chicks have also returned to Kakrarahu. She's a grandmother and a great grandmother but this year, Marta again lay three dark, speckled eggs.

Ornithologists and bird ecologists Kalev Rattiste has studied gulls for nearly 40 years and was the one to ring the birthday girl, then just a little chick, in 1981. Now, 34 years later, Marta could be compared to a 100-year-old human.

Rattiste's knowledge of Marta and her family history is astounding.

Gulls are monogamous and colonial breeders who usually form relationships for life. According to Rattiste, Marta's first partner died at the age of 24, after around five years together. "The next marriage ended in a divorce after just one year," he told ETV's "Ringvaade". After that, Marta met Oskar, 8 years her junior, with whom she nests to this day. Oskar and Marta have been together for over 20 years now.

Rattiste also recounts how Marta's father was born on the same islet in 1973 and died 16 years later. Her grandparents nested on the island from 1966 to 1980.

Rattiste said his team use colored identification rings to distinguish one gull from another. Gulls also often breed in the very same spot for years, so ornithologists keep track of nest numbers and who occupy them.

Rattiste said he often gets e-mails from his peers in other countries, when they notice a bird from Estonia who winters there. Most messages come from the Netherlands, Denmark, and southern England. Marta, by the way, winters in southern England.

The locals are big fans of Marta and were very happy when they heard that Marta is alive and well, and has once again returned to Matsalu, Rattiste said.

For pictures of Marta click here.

Editor: M. Oll

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