Ringed/marked birds

Birds can be ringed or otherwise marked in a variety of ways. If the rings can be read it is possible to track down the origin and movements of the bird. Some markings can be read in the field with the naked eye, and certainly with the use of binoculars or a telescope. The numbers on metal rings are harder to read and for small birds often require the bird to be caught by a ringer (or be picked up dead or injured). The following are some of the schemes in use. If you come across any marked birds and can send us details of the bird (species, where and when found, condition and ring details) we can try to find out more about it.

Metal rings


Ringed Canada Goose at Waddon Ponds - John Birkett


Ringed Canada Goose 5251108 at Waddon Ponds. J Birkett

These are fitted by a ringer to one of the bird’s legs. The rings bear an inscription relating to the country in which the ringing took place and a unique code. Canada Geese seen at Waddon Ponds have been checked. One seems to be effectively resident on the site, but others seem to be present for a time then move on.

5251108 ring

Ring fitted to Canada Goose 5251108. J Birkett

5260388 ring

Upside down ring fitted to Canada Goose 5260388. J Birkett

Coloured ‘rings’

There are various forms of using coloured rings to help identify birds. The schemes are registered centrally to try to avoid confusion that would be caused by having the same ring combinations being used by different organisations.

The simplest form is to use a single coloured ring (usually along with a metal ring). The colour often shows that the bird was ringed at a particular location, perhaps with different colours being used in different years. The leg (and position on the leg) and relation to the metal ring can also be part of the coding. One example of this type of scheme is that used initially at Beddington Farmlands to show that Tree Sparrows had been ringed there.

Tree sparrow pullus white ring

Tree Sparrow pullus ringed at Beddington - Derek Coleman

Another is the use of a single coloured ring bearing a unique code (usually of two, three or four alpha-numeric characters). Again the ring colour may be changed each year. This allows individual birds to be identified. This has been used for Tree Sparrows at Beddington.

VBA at Waddon Ponds Sept 2014

VBA at Waddon Ponds. J Birkett

There are many schemes involving colour ringing of gulls. For smaller gulls (Black-headed and Common) the first character of a four character code indicates the country in which the bird was ringed. Various colour-ringed Gulls have been seen at Waddon Ponds since about 2012. These include white 'VBA' and white 'T09' from Denmark, white 'T28A' from Poland, black 'XN31' from Germany and white '28F9' from the Cotswold Water Park.
B-h Gull KU 05

KU at Waddon Ponds. J Birkett

In 2018 a programme of ringing cygnets at Waddon Ponds was instigated. The young birds have been hard to catch, but several have been ringed using orange rings bearing codes 4XXX (where X represent a letter).

Other colour ringing schemes involve the use of several different colour rings (in some instances combined with coloured flags). The metal ring is also part of the coding, which depends on the exact location on the legs of the different rings.

As well as small birds such as Blackbirds, multiple colour rings are often used on waders such as Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff.

Wing tags

Over the years some species, such as gulls and birds of prey, have been fitted with tags, with or without codes on them.

Nasal saddle

In recent years some wildfowl have been fitted with ‘saddles’ on the beak. These have different colours and are usually coded.

Neck collars

Various of the larger wildfowl species have been fitted with coloured ‘necktags’ bearing codes.

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