Why do we ring birds ?    #TOP


Why do we ring birds
Ringing in Britain and Ireland
Does ringing affect the birds?
How are birds caught for ringing
Learning to ring birds
Please report any ringed bird found

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 bears an address so that anyone finding a ringed bird can help by reporting its whereabouts and fate. Some ringing projects also use colour rings to allow individual birds to be identified in the field.  

After over ninety years of bird ringing in Britain and Ireland, we are continuing to discover new facts about migration routes and wintering areas. However, the main focus of the Ringing scheme today is the monitoring of bird populations. 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 bird's biology help us to understand the causes of population declines. Such information is so important for conservation that the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) runs two special projects to collect this data.

The Constant Effort Sites (CES) Scheme provides information on population size, breeding success and survival of bird species living in scrub and wetland habitats. Ringers work at over 130 sites each year. The Re-trapping Adults for Survival (RAS) project gathers survival data for a wide range of species, particularly those of current conservation concern.

Ringing allowed us to show that declines in the number of Sedge Warblers breeding in Britain and Ireland was linked to lower levels of rainfall in their African wintering quarters. We have also found that the recent dramatic decline in the numbers of Song Thrushes has been caused by a reduction in the survival rate of young birds. This information will help us identify the environmental factors responsible for the decline.  

Ringing in Britain and Ireland.

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) organizes the British and Irish Ringing Scheme. Around 800,000 birds are ringed in Britain and Ireland each year by just over 2,000 trained ringers, most of whom are volunteers. On average fewer than one out of fifty birds ringed is subsequently reported to the BTO, so every report of a ringed bird is of value. More about the BTO

Does ringing affect the birds?

The simple answer is no. 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.

Birds will not be affected as long as 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 a birdís weight, a ring is similar to a wristwatch on a human.  

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How are birds caught for ringing?


Birds are caught in a variety of ways. About twenty percent are ringed as chicks in the nest, this is valuable because their precise age and origin are then known.  

                                Photos © John Middleton

This method is very effective, but birds can only be removed safely from mist-nets by experienced ringers who have received special training.  

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The method most frequently used to catch fully-grown birds is the mist-net, this is a fine net erected between poles and is designed to trap birds in flight. 




Learning to ring.

The skills necessary to become a ringer can only be learnt by practice under the close supervision of experienced ringers. 

Essential skills include the safe and efficient trapping and handling of birds, identification, ageing, sexing, measuring, record keeping and reporting to the Ringing unit
For this reason, ringers undertake a period of training of at least one or two years, during which they are only allowed to ring birds under supervision. Progress through the permit system is assessed by an independent ringer whose own ability has been judged to a high standard. In this way the BTO ringing scheme maintains very high standards of bird welfare and scientific data.


A BTO ringing permit is also a legal requirement and is, in many ways similar to a driving licence but has to be renewed annually. If you would like to find out more about learning to become a bird ringer contact the BTO direct at ringing@bto.org who will put you in touch with someone who can train you.

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Please report any ringed bird that you find.

The Ring. 
Write down the ring number and, if the bird is dead, please enclose the ring taped to your letter. The ring will be returned to you if you wish to keep it. If it is not a BTO ring (address starting BTO or British Museum) please give the address as well. 


Where & When.  

Give the location the bird was found including the name of the nearest town or village and a grid reference if possible. Give the date the ringed bird was found.  

The Circumstances.  
Say if the bird was alive or dead. If dead, please give the cause of death if known, e.g. was it hit by a car, brought in by a cat, or found oiled on a beach? . Also note if the bird was freshly dead or decomposed etc. If the bird is alive please say what happened to it.  
The bird.  Write down the type or species of bird if known.  
Your details.
Don't forget to give your name and address so that you can be sent the information about when and where the bird had been ringed. Details will normally be sent within a month, but there may be delays at busy times of year. 
Please send the details to The British Trust for Ornithology, Thetford, Norfolk IP24 2PU, UK or E-mail ringing@bto.org
If you send a report of a ringed bird by E-mail, please include your postal address.
The material in this page is from a leaflet distributed by the BTO with additional material and photos by NWNRG

Web design and content John Middleton © North West Norfolk Ringing Group Web consultant Kelvin Baldwin