Colour leg rings unlock migration mysteries

Some birders and photographers view coloured bands on birds’ legs as an unwelcome piece of extra ‘bling’ which can spoil a good photo, or perhaps even interfere with the bird’s well-being.

This negative perception is unfortunate, as birders and photographers have a vital role to play in ensuring that those bands provide invaluable information about the birds and the habitats and sites they utilise, by reporting them whenever they see them.

Here’s a case in point. During my visits to a few sites in southern Ireland in  August and September, I saw an unusually high number of ‘colour-ringed’ birds. I made a point of photographing them as best I could (digiscoping is a huge help), and then looked around for who to report them to.

I was alerted to the website European Colour Ring Birding, and from that link, got to know Pete Potts, who was a huge help in tracking down the origins of my colour-ringed birds. Here’s what I’ve learned so far, and it’s been quite an eye-opener.


Blue star = Roscarberry Bay, Co Cork; Red star = Tacumshin and Bannow Bay, Co Wexford; yellow spot = original ringing site; blue line = link between site of origin and site of my observations

  1. on map

Eurasian Oystercatcher, Roscarberry, 5 Sep 2017.

Ringed as an adult while incubating on 31 May 2017 at Auðsholt, Ölfus, south-west Iceland (see rough route on the map above).

Screen Shot 2017-10-28 at 9.26.49 PM

2. on map


Little Egret, Roscarberry, 5 Sep 2017.

Little Egret ‘DB’ was ringed as a nestling at a colony in Ardfry, Galway, Ireland on 29 May 2009, one of three ringed in a brood of three by John Lusby and Chris Benson. Despite the fact that this bird is now over 8 years old, this is the first reported sighting of this bird since it was ringed.

3. on map


Lesser Black-backed Gull_DSC01957

Juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull, Roscarberry, 5 Sep 2017

23E:C was ringed as a chick  on Horse Isle, Ardrossan, Ayrshire, Scotland, on 26 June 17. This is the first report since ringing.
4. on map

Eurasian Curlew, Roscarberry, 5 Sep 2017.

I received the following helpful data on this bird from Robin Ward. The bird, an adult male (born prior to 2015), was one of 20 ringed on 16th January 2016 on Wensley Ings, Wensleydale, North Yorkshire (SE0888).  Eighteen of these birds were re-sighted during last winter in Wensleydale.  ‘NO RW’  (Niger over Orange, Red over White) is one of the two birds that wasn’t until now re-sighted after marking, presumably because it has wintered in Ireland.

A large proportion of Curlew that breed in the Pennines winter in Ireland.  Autumn and wintering populations in northern Britain, originate from breeding grounds in Scandinavia (mostly Finland and Sweden), although some local breeders are involved.  Two of the Curlew colour-ringed in winter at Wensleydale I have subsequently seen during autumn passage on the Tees Estuary (2016) to then be seen back in Wenlseydale that winter (December 2016).

5. on map



Adult Mediterranean Gulls 2XE5 and 2XE6, Roscarberry, 5 Sep 2017.

Ringed by Alyn Walsh at Lady’s Island, Co Wexford, Ireland. I’m still awaiting the details of the age of these birds.

Even though we know when we watch migrants that they travel great distances from all sorts of places, somehow it makes it seem more ‘real’ and extraordinary when you can say for certain exactly where a bird has travelled from. The idea of those birds all converging in one place on one day definitely added value to the visit for me.


Bannow Bay, near Wellingtonbridge, Co Wexford.

6. on map


Common Greenshank, Bannow Bay, 28 Aug 2017

Ringed as a juvenile on the Ythan Estuary in North-east Scotland on 18 Aug 2016, so the bird is just a year old. Screen Shot 2017-10-28 at 10.21.40 PM8. on mapleg-flag-Eurasian-Curlew_DSC01138

Tony Cross supplied the history of Eurasian Curlew ‘CV’. It was ringed (FJ10581) at a pre-breeding communal roost on the River Severn between Newtown and Welshpool, Wales on the 8th March 2016. It is also one of the 14 individuals subsequently traced to precise breeding territories. This one nests on a mosaic of sheep pasture and hay meadows  on the Shropshire/Powys border.


Tacumshin Lake, Co Wexford.

7. on map


Juvenile Common Ringed Plover, Tacumshin Lake, 31 Aug 2017.

Dominic Cimiotti kindly sent me the details of this bird: Your bird was ringed by me as a chick at nature reserve Beltringharder Koog (54.542550 N, 8.912648 E) in northern Germany at 9th of July 2017. It later fledged together with two siblings. Interestingly, it was the second successful brood of this breeding pair in that breeding season. We found the second nest, from which your bird originated, while we were catching the big chicks of the first brood!

Some of the German birds spend the winter in the British Isles. We already have two other re-sightings from the Wexford region in our data base: one bird was observed at Carne harbour in December 2015 and one bird was observed at Duncannon beach in August 2017.

It seems incredible to think that this bird was still in an egg in Germany two months before I saw it in Ireland!

Finally, one of a pair of juvenile Peregrines (the male) at this site was wearing a blue leg ring. Unfortunately, without being able to see the code on the ring, it is impossible to say where the bird comes from.


Juvenile Peregrines (upper bird with blue leg flag), Tacumshin Lake, Co Wexford, 29 Aug 2017.

Some people may find colour leg rings or flags aesthetically unpleasing, but I think the potential knowledge to be gained by marking birds so that they can identified in the field individually far outweighs any perceived disadvantages, particularly when the information harvested can be fed into conservation outcomes. And, I must admit, on days when there seems to be nothing ‘good’ about, looking for colour-rings gives me extra motivation to pay careful attention to what I see, even when they are so-called ‘common’ species.

A final plug for anyone who sees a colour-ringed or flagged shorebird in Aisa; please do report it at this site By doing so, you will be contributing to the conservation of these species and the sites they use, as well as finding out more about the marvels of migration for yourself!


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