Wednesday, 20 July 2011

This Shag Incapacitated

900,000 birds are ringed every year in the UK.  That's pretty impressive considering this is nearly all done by amateurs.  Now, I'm always on the lookout for dead stuff and assiduously check every leg I find, yet it is a rare enough event to trigger a surge of excitement whenever I find one that's ringed.  So this dead shag was a welcome find on the Bamburgh shoreline in Northumberland. (Sorry if you are reading this while eating your tea.)

As well as the usual numbered metal ring this bird also had the large blue ring above, intended to be readable from a distance while the bird is still alive.

A few weeks after reporting the find (online here) I received an email to tell me that my shag had been ringed at the Isle of May Bird Observatory in the Firth of Forth last June as a nestling. Sadly, this one didn't see its first birthday, well short of the record age of a recovered shag of 29 years 10 months 25 days.  The British Trust for Ornithology records seem to show regular movement in both directions between the Isle of May and the Northumberland coast. (see map)

According to the BTO, the ring recovery rate is less than 2% so its hardly surprising that you find so few of them.  I suppose this means that ringing is a pretty inefficient way to study how birds move about, how long they live etc. Up to now its been the only practical way but I do wonder if the days of mass ringing might be numbered as technology gets smaller and cheaper. Just look at the recent cuckoo studies - more information discovered in a week or two than in decades of ringing.

So, this shag on a rock was a nice find but my most impressive ring - and I'm still dining out on this one- was 25 years ago on the Isle of Skye.  I'll bore you with the story as soon as I find my old 35mm slides. Don't hold you breath though - it could take some time.

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