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2020-11-23 : 7:56 pm : +0100


Bird ringing and ring reading in Austria

ringed Black-headed Gull from Hungary
ringed Black-headed Gull from Hungary
huge yellow ring of Mute swan
huge yellow ring of Mute swan

For over a hundred years, biologists have been ringing/banding birds for scientific purposes. Initially, ornithologists were interested in the movements of birds. Marking birds with individually identifiable rings has, for example, shown that Barn Swallows overwintering in southern Africa return to breed all over Europe. Other important advantages of bird ringing studies have been the ability to monitor and study bird lifespan, territory size and fidelity, feeding behaviour and population size.

The ring is normally a small plastic or an individually numbered metal band (stainless steel or aluminium) that is fitted around the tarsometatarsus,i.e. between the foot and the "knee". The ring is tightened around the legusing specially designed ringing pliers.

Ornithologists also use a number of other methods for marking birds. These include feather colouring or bleaching (as used on the Bearded Vulture), wing bands (penguins, large sea birds), nasal saddles (ducks and geese) and neck collars (large birds including geese). Small birds are generally only fitted with a very light aluminium ring (with a unique number and the address of the controlling ringing organization). Very small birds - especially hummingbirds are rarely ringed because their legs are so small as to make ringing very difficult both for the bird and the ringer. Nevertheless, special ultra-small rings are available for these tiniest of birds. The ringing of larger birds is somewhat more flexible. A stronger metal is used for birds that have powerful bills (such as parrots), and a corrosion-resistant metal is important for birds that spend a lot of time in water, especially waders (aluminium might not rust but the number does tend to fade over the years).

Ornithologists studying particular species may choose to use field-readable rings or colour ring combinations. Such rings are big and obvious enough that one can read them at a distance. This means that observers can reliably identify an individual without needing to capture it.

The interest in bird ring reading - especially of waterbirds - has steadily increased over the last few years. Have a look at our image gallery and you will see a series of examples of the types of rings used in Austria and what they look like on the birds. This will help you spot ringed birds and, with some luck, read the ring number or colour sequence of the bird.

If you are able to read a ring (or find a dead bird with a ring), please send all the bird's information (species, ringing center name, ring number, colour code, ring position, age, sex, location, GPS coordinates and date) along with your personal contact details to:


Österreichische Vogelwarte
Konrad-Lorenz-Institut für Vergleichende Verhaltensforschung
Savoyenstraße 1a,
1160 Wien

Tel:   +43 (1) 25077-7349

Please always send colour ring details to ring[AT]

Interesting links:

FarbringprojekEuropean Colour Ring Birding

British Trust for Ornithology Ringing
Southern African Bird Ringing Unit SAFRING
North American Bird Banding Program

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