Much has been discovered about birds by watching and counting them, but such methods rarely allow birds to be identified as individuals. This is essential if we are to learn about how long they live and when and where they move, questions that are vital for bird conservation. Placing a lightweight, uniquely numbered, metal ring around a bird’s leg provides a reliable and harmless method of identifying birds as individuals. Each ring also has an address so that anyone finding a ringed bird can help by reporting where and when it was found and what happened to it. Some ringing projects also use colour rings to allow individual birds to be identified without being caught.
Ringing allows us to study how many young birds leave the nest and survive to become adults, as well as how many adults survive the stresses of breeding, migration and severe weather. Changes in survival rates and other aspects of birds’ biology help us to understand the causes of population declines.
Ringing is carried out by skilled ringers with the utmost consideration for the birds’ welfare. It is not surprising that ringing has little effect on birds because relative to the bird’s weight, wearing a ring is similar to a person carrying a mobile phone. It is essential that birds are not affected unduly by the fitting and wearing of a ring; if they were, ringing would not tell us how normal birds behave.
Many studies have shown that birds ringed during the breeding season quickly return to incubating eggs, or feeding chicks, once they are released, and long distance migrants continue to travel thousands of miles between breeding and wintering grounds.
The British and Irish Ringing Scheme is organised by the BTO. Over 800,000 birds are ringed in Britain and Ireland each year by over 2,000 trained ringers, most of whom are volunteers. On average fewer than one out of every fifty birds ringed is subsequently reported to the BTO, so every report of a ringed bird is of value.
Ringing in Wexford
The NPWS has two major ringing and conservation programmes in Wexford, the ringing of geese on the North Slob and the Roseate Tern project at Our Lady’s Island. Both of these projects help in painting a bigger picture of the lives of these birds.
The Lady’s Island project runs from April to August, looking after over 100 pairs of Roseate Terns. The nests are closely monitored and the site is baited for rats in order to give the young birds the best possible chances of survival.
200 nest boxes have been put down on the site to provide a safe place for the adults to lay their eggs. Each nest box is checked on a daily basis, and rings on the birds are read to monitor which birds are paired up together.
When the chicks are just a few days old, they are also ringed.
A lot of information can be collected from reading the rings, and birds that have been ringed in other sites such as Rockabill, Co Dublin, have been seen at Our Lady’s Island.
Reporting ring readings
All ring sightings should be reported to the BTO, this can be done through their website or www.ring.ac. When reporting, make a note of the number and address on the ring, when and where it was sighted (a grid reference if possible), the species of bird if you know it and the condition of the bird, is it dead or alive, injured etc.
On the map below are some sightings that have been sent to BTO:
- Sandwich Tern, Alcochete, Portugal
This bird was ringed in Our Lady’s Island on June 7th 2004 and was spotted over four years later on September 28th 2008 in Portugal.
- Common Tern, The Gambia
This bird was ringed in Rockabill on June 29th 2005 by the NPWS and was found alive and healthy on March 13th 2008 off the coast of the Gambia, a distance of 4551km away!
- Roseate Tern, Monrovia, Liberia
This bird was also ringed on Rockabill by NPWS in July 2009 and was found in captivity in Liberia on April 28th 2010. The bird had been kept without food and water and later died.
- Roseate Tern, Lome, Togo
Another bird form Rockabill, this tern was ringed on July 8th 2008 and found dead in Togo by a German man working for the German embassy there on March 31st 2009.