Simon Walker's picture

Bird Rings and Photography

On several occasions I have noticed that photographs I've taken have been of sufficient resolution to allow the characters on the rings of ringed birds to be read.
Unfortunately, because the numbers run horizontally, it's never possible to read the whole number (unless the bird is unfeasibly co-operative, and moves around so you can get several shots of various viewpoints). In reality this just doesn't happen.
If the numbers ran vertically, at least some of the time they'd be legible in photographs. I suppose that the band might have to be a little wider, and that might be a problem with some birds.
It's just a bit frustrating to be able to read part of the number, but not all, so one can't report a sighting to the ringing organisation.
Any thoughts, anyone?



trevindevon's picture


It's a pity that the rings cant be colour coded using thin bands of colour. You get a lot of number combinations if you use 5 or 6 rings. Just look at the Lottery.
You would be able to read the number from any angle but of course you would need to know the code which wouldn't need to be classified info and the colours would fade unless they could be in some fab new material. Maybe unrealistic but worth thinking about surely.

jerebarker's picture


There are in fact colour-rings used in bird-ringing: often on larger species you'll see a coloured ring with an alphanumeric code on it (though even species as small as House Sparrow can be ringed successfully like this) and on smaller birds usually a combination of colours.

It is possible, with patience and perhaps also some food, to entice ringed birds round and round sufficient to photograph or read the ring number in the field. I've managed it myself with birds ranging from Mute Swans (easy) to Chaffinch (rather more tricky!) - and the ring can be reported to the BTO via Sometimes, just sometimes, even a partial ring-reading is enough to identify an individual.

Pretty much each of the past few winters in Exeter I've been enticing our local Black-headed Gulls with bread, and have managed to read rings of birds from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Latvia, Denmark, Holland and further east in the UK, many of which return to the same wintering site year on year.

Edit: just to say that having the metal ring sufficiently tall to show the full code would become increasingly risky for smaller birds: rings are designed to be the bare minimum in extra weight for a bird to carry whilst still being legible in the hand. Adding to the weight a bird has to carry could compromise its migration/movements, which would rather bias any data generated from a recovery.