I was browsing through the BTO (British Trust Of Orthinology’s) website and came across an article about ‘Bird Ringing’, I’d heard of it before and it was always something I had fancied but I’d presumed I would be too young to start, but to my surprise you can start at any reasonable age! The further I read the more I wanted to do it, so I found my local trainer and submitted my application. A few days later my trainer, Seamus Eaves, replied saying I had been accepted to start my training, which would take a few years and then at 14years old, if I was fully trained, I would be allowed to get a permit to say I could officially ring. I was so excited and couldn’t wait to go out on my first session…
After a few months of bad weather, on Saturday 28th January I was invited to join Seamus on my first ringing session at a site near Fleetwood, which a was a feeding station, in broad-leaved woodland next to some allotments. We had to be there early as the birds would be more active and there wouldn’t be many people around, so we arrived for 8.00…
Seamus used some homemade feeders filled with Niger seeds and MP3 recording of Goldfinch calls which we hoped would attract Goldfinch and put some seed mix to attract chaffinch and the red-listed House Sparrow. We set up the ‘mist nets’ which were very fine and almost invisible to birds, which would were tied to two long bamboo poles which stretched about 10 metres across. Mist nets can only operate in the mildest of weather, there has to be no wind or rain otherwise they become visible to the birds. Now all set up, we had to wait 10-15 minutes before we could check the nets… After a curious wait we headed down to the nets to see what are first catch would bring. Seamus and Ian (Seamus’s helper) used a ‘furling hook’ to tap the back of the bush’s too scare any birds there towards the nets to ensure we had as many birds as we could. We had a fair few birds in the net but the main problem to tackle, in ringing, is to untangle them from the net as some birds can get themselves into a big pickle and damage the nets and possibly even injure themselves. Seamus has had 30years of experience so used the method which involved working out which side the bird flew in and then he could untangle from there. Once all the birds were out we put them into bird bag and headed back to base…
Now that we had caught the birds it was time to ring them. Firstly Seamus taught me the ‘ringers grip’ which was the basic and comfortable way of handling the bird, this involved using my two for fingers to gently grip the neck of the bird giving me easy access to the wings and feet. Most people think that there is only one step to ringing, but there are in fact many steps that ensure that we have all the right information. The first criteria were to identify, age and sex the bird. To age the bird we had to look for a contrast between outer unmoulted and inner moulted greater coverts, if there is a change in colour the bird is a juvenile, which means it hasn’t fully moulted. Ringers use a number code, for example 5, which means it was born in the previous calendar year.(complicated, I know) To sex the bird, depends on which species it is, for example a Chaffinch’s have big differences in their colours making it easier to sex them whereas Great tit’s you would need to look on the black cap and stripe and look at the shininess or dullness of the black, in some birds like Tree sparrow it is merely impossible to tell the sex.
Next Seamus fitted a light weight ring bearing a unique number on. Rings come in all different fittings ranging from A, the smallest, to G, the biggest. The ring is simply slipped on below the elbow joint and then gently squeezed together by hand and finally with some ringing pliers, given a final squeeze to properly secure the ring. Hopefully this ring will stay on all of the bird’s lifetime and will provide the BTO with information without harming the bird. The final step was to take some Biometrics which included, measuring wingspan, weighing and check to see if the bird is carrying fat. The ring number and all the biometrics are all recorded which is then sent back to a BTO database. To finish the bird is released unharmed. Sometimes we re-catch birds that are already ringed but we still carry out measurements to check it progress…
Now we had finished are first batch we waited for a bit till checking again and after a few hours we had finished and with a great result.
In total we caught 46 birds… re-captures in brackets.
Chaffinch – 6
Dunnock – 2 (1)
Great Tit – 11 (1)
Robin – 3
Blue Tit – 11 (2)
Long-tailed Tit – 4
Blackbird – 1
House Sparrow – 5
Greenfinch – 1
Goldfinch – 2
The highlights of the day were the long-tailed tits as they were very noisy and extremely cute! I will DEFINATLEY be carrying on ringing as it is such a great experience and skill to have and it such a rare chance to get up close and personal with common and sometimes rare birds! I would highly recommend it to anyone with a passion for birds and wildlife.
If you would like to become a ringer check out this link to find more information: http://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/ringing/taking-part/learn-ring
Here is a link to Seamus Eaves website which will include updates about his recent captures: http://fleetwoodbirder.blogspot.com/