Gallery: Youngsters inspired by bird ringing demonstrations at Minsmere

Bird ringing workshop by Waveney Bird Club at Minsmere Nature Reserve

Bird ringing workshop by Waveney Bird Club at Minsmere Nature Reserve - Credit: Archant

A bird in the hand is worth more than you might think for a group of Suffolk ornithologists.

For each bird that is caught in ringing demonstrations by Waveney Bird Club members at RSPB Minsmere helps to inspire youngsters about the wonders of migration as well as adding to the vast data bank being built up about the lives and conservation needs of Britain’s birdlife.

The regular demonstrations, which have commenced for a sixth summer season and will continue every Thursday throughout August, are magnet-like in their attraction of youngsters who are given the chance to see at close quarters any bird caught. Adults are also attracted to the events like moths to a flame and the children and grown-ups alike can learn about the fascinating lifestyles of familiar and less familiar species.

On demonstration days, RSPB Minsmere’s Discovery Centre is a hive of activity, with club members on hand to explain to visitors the finer points of bird ringing and answer any questions about any aspect of ornithology.

The ornithologists carrying out the ringing studies are specially trained and specially licensed to catch and handle the birds. They do so under a strict code of practice set out by the Thetford-based British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), which organises the British and Irish Ringing Scheme, with the code having the welfare of the birds at its heart.

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In the Waveney club’s ringing at RSPB Minsmere, birds are caught in special fine-mesh nets erected between poles and strategically placed around woodland and scrub on the reserve.

The birds are carefully extracted from the nets during regular “rounds”, placed in soft bird bags and taken to the Discovery Centre for vital details to be recorded.

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They are identified, aged, sexed, weighed and measured, with all the data being carefully recorded to add to the national bank of knowledge about each species. Each bird is then fitted with an individually numbered lightweight leg ring which bears the words “BTO Brit Museum NH London SW7”.

The ring has negligible effect on the bird’s behaviour – if it did it would negate the whole point of the study. The bird is then carefully released and if it is ever caught again by another ringer, or is found in any circumstances by a member of the public who reports it to the printed address, such data as its longevity and migratory movements can be established.

Bird ringing has been taking place in Britain and Ireland for about 100 years, with more than 800,000 individuals being ringed every year by more than 2,400 trained ringers, and still new facts are being discovered about such aspects as migratory routes and wintering areas. The information being amassed helps conservationists understand many facets of bird biology, such as the causes of population declines.

Ringing allows ornithologists to study how many young birds leave the nest from any brood, and how many survive to become adults, as well as how many adults survive the stresses of breeding, migration and severe weather, for example.

Such information is so important for conservation that the BTO runs various programmes within the overall ringing scheme.

They include, for example, the Constant Effort Sites programme, in which ringers channel major effort into specific sites in scrub and wetland habitats. More than 120 such sites are intensively studied each year to gain information on population size, breeding success and survival.

Another project is the Retrapping Adults for Survival scheme in which survival information is gathered on a wide range of species, particularly those of current conservation concern.

Waveney Bird Club chairman Steve Piotrowski, one of Suffolk’s leading ringers and conservationists, said the club hoped its RSPB Minsmere events would inspire a new generation of naturalists.

“One of the most rewarding parts of the ringing we are carrying out here is the reaction of the children who visit us.

“The looks on their faces say it all when they see the birds in the hand and they learn things about them that are truly amazing.

“We sometimes let a child let a bird go after it’s been ringed and that is such a thrill for the youngsters.

“We are working in partnership with the RSPB and we would love to think that for at least some of the children who come along to see the ringing demonstrations it will be the start of a lifetime’s connection with nature.”

n Waveney Bird Club’s ringing demonstrations at RSPB Minsmere will take place every Thursday in August, running from 10am to 4pm. The demonstrations are free events but normal reserve entry fees apply.

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