The ringing of birds has been happening for over a hundred years, helping both scientists and wildlife enthusiasts to understand birds and their awe-inspiring lives. The research methodology began with a curiosity about bird migration, and it is still used for that purpose today. Individual GPS tracking devices may tell more thanks to their ability to follow individual birds day to day on their movements as well as migrations throughout the world, however these miniature trackers are expensive. Consequently they tend to be limited to small numbers of birds and time limited research programmes.
You will therefore still see birds throughout the world with rings on their tags or tags on their wings, and ringing will continue to be an essential part of understanding bird longevity and their migration patterns. Remember we once thought that swallows spent their winters at the bottom of ponds!
Ringing also, thanks to it being a large scale and long term research approach, provides valuable data on the impact of humans and climate change on bird populations and migration patterns. And it is for this purpose it will definitely continue for at least the foreseeable future to enable successful and appropriate bird conservation policy and projects around the world.
The ringing has minimal effect on birds because the ring is not that different to us wearing a ring. Once on you hardly notice it. And thanks to years of ringing experience and national and international nature laws which require the ringers to be trained before they can catch and ring a bird, it has little or no affect on bird behaviours. UK ringers have permits, which as well as setting out the type of ringing they are permitted to undertake, have to be renewed annually.
In the United Kingdom more than 36 million birds have been ringed since the first British ringing in 1909, which have generated nearly 700,000 ring recoveries. Originally rings were recovered by reports of dead birds, then it became usual to recapture live birds to check for rings. However recapturing is resource intensive and requires specialist techniques and some bird species become too wary. So the third recovery approach is by observation, which is why you may have seen many birds with coloured leg rings and/or wing tags.
It is not just the ringers though who observe. Anyone who spots a ring or tag can report their observations to contribute to the research, and that includes you!
If you are living or travelling in Europe (including the UK) and spot a bird with a leg ring or wing tag, why not get involved. It is easy to do, albeit it is essential that you recognise what the bird species or can take a photograph to identify it later. Here’s what to do;
- Make a note of the ring/tag position (eg below knee on right leg). There may be more than one ring/tag.
- Record colour of the ring/tag on the bird.
- Even better if you have a camera then take a picture of the bird and its tag(s).
- Can you see the code on the tags? Record whatever you can see.
- Make a note of the species and physical location of bird, along with any other information you feel might be helpful to the researchers.
- When back at your computer
Not only will your observation be contributing to important research, you will get a response to your observations. It might take a while as many of the ringers are volunteers, but you should eventually get to hear more about the bird and the project you have contributed to.