Bird ringing

Bird ringing

Bird ringing (also known as bird banding) is an aid to studying wild birds, by attaching a small individually numbered metal or plastic ring to their legs or wings, so that various aspects of the bird's life can be studied by the ability to re-find the same individual later. This can include migration, longevity, mortality, population studies, territoriality feeding behaviour, and many other aspects. [Cottam, C. 1956. Uses of marking animals in ecological studies:marking birds for scientific purposes. Ecology, 37: 675-681.]


Terminology and techniques

Those who ring birds are called "bird ringers" in the UK or in some parts of Europe; elsewhere it is referred to as "bird-banding", as the shape is more band-like, than ring-like. Organized ringing efforts are called "ringing schemes" and the organizations that run them, "ringing authorities". Birds are "ringed" (rather than "rung"). In most of the world, except the UK and parts of Europe, those that "band" birds are known as "banders" and are active at "banding stations".

Birds are either ringed at the nest, or after being trapped in fine mist nets, Heligoland traps, drag nets, cannon nets, or similar methods.

A ring of suitable size is attached (usually made of aluminum or other light-weight material), and has on it a unique number, plus a contact address. The bird is often weighed and measured, examined for data relevant to the ringer's project, and then released. The rings are very light-weight, and have no adverse effect on the birds. The individual birds can then be identified when they are re-trapped, or found dead.

When a ringed bird is found, and the ring number read and reported back to the ringer or ringing authority, this is termed a "ringing recovery" or "control". The finder can contact the address on the ring, give the unique number, and be told the known history of the bird's movements. Some national ringing/banding authorities also accept reports by phone or on official web sites.

The organizing body, by collating many such reports, can then determine patterns of bird movements for large populations. Non-ringing/banding scientists can also obtain data for use in bird related research.


The earliest attempt to mark a bird was by one Quintus Fabius Pictor. This Roman officer, during the Punic Wars around 218-201 BC, was sent a swallow by a besieged garrison. He used a thread on its leg to send a message back. A knight interested in chariot races during the time of Pliny (AD 1) would take swallows to Volterra, convert|135|mi|km away and release them with information on the race winners. [Fisher, J. & Peterson, R.T. 1964. "The world of birds". Doubleday & Co., Garden City, New York. 288 pp.]

Falconers in the Middle Ages would fit plates on their falcons with seals of their owners. From around 1560 or so, swans were marked with a "swan mark", a nick on the bill. [Charles Knight (1842) The Penny Magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge: of the society for the diffusion of useful knowledge.Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (Great Britain) v.11 [n.s. v.2] (pp. 277-278] [Schechter, Frank I. The Historical Foundations of the Law Relating to Trade-Marks. New York: Columbia University Press, 1925. p. 35]

Ringing of birds for scientific purposes was started in 1899 by Christian Mortensen, a Danish schoolteacher. He used zinc rings on European Starlings. The first ringing scheme was established in Germany in 1903 at the "Vogelwarte" in Rossiten on the Baltic Coast. This was followed by Hungary in 1908, Great Britain in 1909 (by Arthur Landsborough Thomson in Aberdeen and Harry Witherby in England), Yugoslavia in 1910 and the Scandinavian countries between 1911 and 1914. [Spencer, R. 1985. Marking. In: Campbell. B. & Lack, E. 1985. "A dictionary of birds". British Ornithologists' Union. London, pp. 338-341.]

imilar schemes

Wing tags

In some surveys, involving larger birds such as eagles, brightly-coloured plastic tags are attached to birds' wing feathers. Each has a letter or letters, and the combination of colour and letters uniquely identifies the bird. These can then be read in the field, through binoculars, meaning that there is no need to re-trap the birds. Because the tags are attached to feathers, they drop off when the bird moults. Imping is the practice of replacing a bird's normal feather with a brightly-colored false feather. [Wright, Earl G (1939) Marking Birds by Imping Feathers. The Journal of Wildlife Management 3(3):238-239] A patagial tag is a permanent tag held onto the wing by a rivet punched through the patagium.WAYNE R. MARION, JEFF D. SHAMIS (1977) AN ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY OF BIRD MARKING TECHNIQUES 42-61 Bird banding 48(1):42-61 [] ]

Radio transmitters and satellite-tracking

Where detailed information is needed on individual movements, tiny radio transmitters can be fitted on to birds. For small species the transmitter is carried as a 'backpack' fitted over the wing bases, and for larger species it may be attached to a tail feather or looped to the legs. Both types usually have a tiny (10cm) flexible aerial to improve signal reception. Two field receivers (reading distance and direction) are needed to establish the bird's position using triangulation from the ground. The technique is useful for tracing individuals during landscape-level movements particularly in dense vegetation (such as tropical forests) and for shy or difficult-to-spot species, because birds can be located from a distance without visual confirmation. [Rappole, J. H. and Tipton, A. R. 1991. New harness design for attachment of radio transmitters to small passerines. Á J. Field Orn. 62: 335-337] [Beat Naef-Daenzer (2007) An allometric function to fit leg-loop harnesses to terrestrial birds. Journal of Avian Biology 38(3):404-407 [ PDF] ]

The use of satellite transmitters for bird movements is currently restricted by transmitter size - to species larger than about 400g. They may be attached to migratory birds (geese, swans, cranes, penguins etc.) or other species such as penguins that undertake long-distance movements. Individuals may be tracked by satellites for immense distances, for the lifetime of the transmitter battery. As with wing tags, the transmitters may be designed to drop off when the bird moults; or they may be recovered by recapturing the bird. [cite journal|author=Mikael Hake, Nils Kjellén, Thomas Alerstam|title=Satellite tracking of Swedish Ospreys "Pandion haliaetus": autumn migration routes and orientation|journal=Journal of Avian Biology|volume=32|issue=1|pages=47–56|year=2001|doi=10.1034/j.1600-048X.2001.320107.x] [Yutaka Kanaia, Mutsuyuki Ueta, Nikolai Germogenov, Meenakshi Nagendran, Nagahisa Mita, and Hiroyoshi Higuchi (2002) Migration routes and important resting areas of Siberian cranes ("Grus leucogeranus") between northeastern Siberia and China as revealed by satellite tracking. Biological Conservation 106(3):339-346 [ PDF] ]

Field-readable rings

A field-readable is a ring or rings, usually made from plastic and brightly coloured, which may also have conspicuous markings in the form of letters and/or numbers. They are used by biologists working in the field to identify individual birds without recapture and with a minimum of disturbance to their behaviour.Rings large enough to carry numbers are usually restricted to larger birds, although if necessary small extensions to the rings (leg flags) bearing the identification code allow their use on slightly smaller species. For small species (e.g. most passerines), individuals can be identified by using a combination of small rings of different colours, which are read in a specific order. Most colour-marks of this type are considered temporary (the rings degrade, fade and may be lost or removed by the birds) and individuals are usually also fitted with a permanent metal ring.

Other markers

Head and neck markers are very visible, and may be used in species where the legs are not normally visible (such as ducks and geese). Nasal discs and nasal saddles can be attached to the culmen with a pin looped through the nostrils in birds with perforate nostrils. They should not be used if they obstruct breathing. They should not be used on birds that live in icy climates, as accumulation of ice on a nasal saddle can plug the nostrils. Neck collars made of expandable, non-heat-conducting plastic are very useful for larger birds such as geese.

ome results

An Arctic Tern ringed as a chick not yet able to fly, on the Farne Islands off the Northumberland coast in eastern Britain in summer 1982, reached Melbourne, Australia in October 1982, a sea journey of over 22,000 km (14,000 miles) in just three months from fledging.

A Manx Shearwater ringed as an adult (at least 5 years old), breeding on Copeland Island, Northern Ireland, is currently (2003/2004) the oldest known wild bird in the world: ringed in July 1953, it was retrapped in July 2003, at least 55 years old. Other ringing recoveries have shown that Manx Shearwaters migrate over 10,000 km to waters off southern Brazil and Argentina in winter, so this bird has covered a "minimum" of 1,000,000 km on migration alone (not counting day-to-day fishing trips). Another bird nearly as old, breeding on Bardsey Island off Wales was calculated by ornithologist Chris Mead to have flown over 8 million kilometres (5 million miles) during its life (and this bird was still alive in 2003, having outlived Chris Mead).

ee also

*British Trust for Ornithology



*Knox, A.G. 1982. "Ringing pioneer"." BTO News" No. 122, p.8.
*Knox, A.G. 1983. "The location of the Ringing Registers of the Aberdeen University Bird-Migration Inquiry". "Ringing and Migration" 4: 148. (This has a number of additional references.)

External links

* [ Report a found band in the United States]
* [ Official US Bird Banding Lab]
* [ Report ringed birds online from all of the European schemes]
* [ EURING (Co-ordinating organisation for European bird-ringing schemes)]
* [ Canadian Migration Monitoring Network (Co-ordinates bird migration monitoring (includes bird banding) stations across Canada)]
* [ Types and sizes of bird rings used in Poland] published by the Aranea, bird rings producer.
* [ The North American Banding Council (NABC)]
* [ The Institute for Bird Populations - MAPS banding Program]

ee also

* Tag and release

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