Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The Future of Bird Ringing?

On Saturday the 22nd myself and others discovered a traumatised and badly injured Barn Owl at the Otmoor RSPB Reserve.

A ring on its right leg had become caught on the barbwire fence from which the Owl was unable
to free itself from. I'm unsure as to how long it had been trapped, but it had severely damaged
its leg whilst trying to escape.

We managed to carefully release the Owl and take it to the Tiddywinkles wildlife rescue centre at Haddenham. I called today for an update on the injured Owl and was told that it had suffered a very bad fracture and although vets had tried to save the injured, leg including the use of a pin, the procedure unfortunately failed and the leg had to be amputated.
However, following the surgery the Owl was still capable of feeding and the staff at the centre were optimistic as to the Owls future. It will of course never be able to be released back into the wild.

Whoever ringed this unfortunate Barn Owl would, I'm sure, have been as saddened as the rest
of us, upon this heartbreaking discovery and I suspect that injuries to birds resulting from rings getting caught are rare. However, they do very obviously happen and by their very nature must go undiscovered and so under recorded.

Aside from this emotive and saddening episode it has once again made me question the relevance
of  widespread and indiscriminate bird trapping and ringing.

It is unquestionable that the trapping and ringing of birds has sought to further our understanding of avian migration patterns and trends, but surely it must be time to reevaluate actually how much more information are we still likely to gleam from the trapping and ringing of up to 900,000 birds each year in Britain & Ireland?  We've been doing it for up to 100 years already.

Is it still worth the distress caused to birds through the trapping of them?

The BTO Bird Atlas project is an important tool in assessing changing bird populations and trends,
as is the monthly WeBs counts- neither of which rely on trapping birds to ascertain statistics.

The Big Garden Birdwatch days plot the rise and fall of some of our commoner birds yet in Oxfordshire alone 5300 Blue Tits were caught and ringed in 2009. Why?
I suspect totals are similar in other counties.

Also it is evident that unfortunately there are those throughout the U.K (and I have met them) who trap and ring birds not as a means to further our scientific knowledge or understanding, but simply as a way to increase personal list totals of species they have ringed within a competitive forum.

So, can it honestly be said that all ringing is absolutely and solely for scientific research?

It was, it should be, but is it?

I for one am not so sure...


  1. I am sure that many others agree with your sentiments, but there is hope that using minimal numbers of modern tracking devices, more will be found out, but without the wholesale intrusion using the ringing procedures that one suspects are probably a frightening and occasionally a fatal experience for the very life forms we seek to protect.
    The Oxon Feather.

  2. Truly an unfortunate and very rare incident.

    The purpose of my posting is not to enter a debate on the issue of bird ringing, but to clarify some of the points raised in your blog of 1 April.

    To talk about the widespread and indiscriminate trapping and ringing of birds in the context of this incident, and to go on to use the word "trapping" in subsequent paragraphs could be misconstrued by some to mean that this barn owl was trapped before ringing.

    The injured bird was ringed as part of a long-running barn owl conservation programme, which has resulted in the numbers of this species increasing significantly in the project area.

    Approximately 200 nest boxes have been erected, mainly in West Oxon but also in other parts of the county. The boxes are monitored for breeding success and chicks are ringed at the appropriate stage of development. To date, approx 1600 chicks have been ringed and this is the first incident of this type to be reported. The vast majority of rings returned have been from birds killed in road traffic incidents.

    It is hoped that all who read these comments find them useful.

  3. Thank you for taking the time to make your comments.
    I had hoped to make the distinction between the injured Barn Owl and the wider issue of bird ringing in general and so apologies if I have given the impression that this unfortunate Owl had been trapped.

    The erection of 200 nest boxes for Barn Owls is without doubt commendable and I for one would like to say thank you for the hard work and dedication you and others have undoubtedly shown to these fantastic and beautiful birds. But may I politely ask, other than the fact that sadly these birds have a tendency to quarter low along roadside verges what other information was collected from the approx 1600 chicks that have been ringed?
    Are chicks still being ringed?
    Are you likely to learn anything new from the continued ringing of Barn Owls?

    You comments are of course welcome as I hope is an honest and open debate on the relevance bird ringing still has in the modern age.