|Yelkouan Shearwater at Rdum tal-Madonna / ARaine |
Scientific bird ringing is a research method based on the individual marking of birds. All birds are given a metal ring that has a unique individual number with the details of the country and organisation carrying out the ringing programme. In some special cases involving projects on certain species, birds are also given colour rings or wing tags to allow for individual recognition in the field.
Bird ringing is an important conservation tool to investigate aspects of bird ecology and biology such as survival rates, population age structure, breeding success rates and migration. Understanding migration patterns is particularly important in terms of international conservation, as an understanding of migratory routes provides crucial information for the planning of integrated systems of protected areas. In Malta, this data also enhances our understanding of where birds that are shot by illegal hunters are coming from.
A range of data can be recorded when birds are caught for the purpose of ringing. These include the age and sex of the bird, a variety of biometric measurements, the amount of fat stored by migratory species, the state of feather moult and the habitat in which the bird was caught. This information allows us to understand how healthy migratory and breeding bird populations are, for example.
Ringed birds can be recovered in several ways; by being recaptured by other ringers (either locally or internationally) or recovered by members of the public (either as a re-sighting or by the recovery of dead or injured birds); the latter in Malta all too often the result of illegal hunting.