Ringing to preserve

Bruna Faria, Maria I. Faria, Mariana Sousa & Tiago Marques, Portugal, 15-18 years old

The first bird ringing took place in the 18th century, in Europe, and its objective was to know where the swallows went during Winter. Nowadays, this practice happens all over the world. In Portugal, it was introduced in the 19th century by William C. Tait, who was a British bird-lover merchant that lived in Porto.

In the past 30th November, the new Bird Ringing Station of the “Pateiras do Ave”, located in Fradelos, in Vila Nova de Famalicão, was inaugurated. The day started early in the morning to the bird ringer Thjis Valkenburg that, during the dawn, while the birds were resting in trees, installed the nets that were going to capture animals when they started to fly. Mist nets were used because they’re designed to small-sized birds, once “[…] different species require different ways to capture them according to their size […]”, as explained by Thjis.

Then, the ringing table, an outdoor lab, was prepared, where all the essential equipment was gathered, such as banding pilers, bands, bird identification guides, rulers, scales and the bags to hold them, everything following the strict rules imposed by the responsible identities, like EURING – European Union for Bird Ringing.

The ringing table and the data collection. Picture by Érica Pedrosa.

When the first birds were captured, they were handled with all the proper care. Thjis refers that “[…] there is a right way to handle the birds”, and, while exemplifying it, added that “[…] this procedure is stressful to the animals and, for that reason, it should be done as fast as possible […]”. Later on, he placed the birds in a proper bag, in order to preserve the animals’ physical integrity, and took them to the ringing table.

Captured bird in the nests. Picture by teacher Maria José Sá.

After the quick identification of each species by the bird ringer (his remarkable experience allowed him not to use the guides), the animals had their weight, their muscle and fat mass and their wings’ length measured. To find their sex and age, it was necessary to investigate their feathers pattern and shape or to their beak, according to each species. On one of the bird’s leg, Thjis placed one metallic band that doesn´t compromise its flight. He also explained that “[…] bird ringing allows to mark each bird individually, because the band has a unique code that distinguishes it of the all of the other bands”.

As exemplified by Valkenbourg, “[…] if we catch a chiffchaff here and, in a few months, it is recaptured in Northern Europe, we get the information of that travel, which allows us to realize the migratory routes and the individuals’ age. […] The band allows us to know where the bird has been”.

Under the close look of the YRE team, Thjis Valkenburg places a band in the bird’s leg. Picture by Érica Pedrosa

Finally, the bird was returned to nature. The first bird ringed in the station of “Pateiras do Ave” was an European robin (Erithacus rubecula) that, in a symbolic way, was set free by Dr. Pedro Sena, the Environment and Public Health alderman of Vila Nova de Famalicão, who followed the activities closely.

Student releasing a bird after being ringed. Picture by Isabel Carneiro.

All of these procedures should be performed by a professional ringer, in Portugal, credentialed by CEMPA- “Centro de Estudos de Migração e Proteção de Aves” (Centre of Bird Migration and Protection Studies) the institution that  accumulates the functions of  “promoting, supporting and developing techno-scientific studies and monitorization programs of the national birdlife and its habitats and provide technical support to decision-making associated with Nature’s Conservation policies“, according to CEMPA’s online page.

During the first scientific ringing session, even though being an experimental session with the goal of studying the methodologies to implement further on, it was possible to ring 32 birds of 11 different species: four European robins (Erithacus rubecula), one Eurasian jay (Garrulus glandarius), three coal tits (Periparus ater), one great tit (Parus major), seven common chiffchaffs (Phylloscopus collybita), three Eurasian blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla), three Sardinian warbler (Sylvia melanocephala), two Eurasian wrens (Troglodytes troglodytes),  three common blackbirds (Turdus merula), three dunnocks (Prunella modularis) and two common chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs). All the collected data will be, then, sent to the National Scientific Ringing Centre and inserted in the e-Bird platform, the biggest bird-sighting community of the world, which contributes to science and species conservation.

The scientific ringing sessions are repeated monthly and they will allow the recapture of birds that are already ringed and, for that reason, compare data. On the other hand, in the Bird Ringing Station, new ringers are also being formed. Thjis explains that “[…] to become a ringer, it´s necessary to learn from a certified ringer, until achieving the apprentice credential […]” and “[…]to obtain that credential, the learner must ring at least 2000 birds from 50 different species!”.

Many bird species, searching for food and shelter, migrate from Northern Europe to the North of Africa, when Winter arrives. The huge landscape modification caused by the anthropic activity demands the identification and preservation of proper conditions to the migratory flows, in locals where the animals can pass by in a safe way. These can be rivers, coastlines, mountain ranges, etc., and they are named “wildlife corridors”. As explained by Vasco Flores Cruz, responsible for the Ringing Station, “two wildlife corridors intersect each other in Fradelos (Vila Nova de Famalicão): a set of small elevations, that are parallel to the coast from Esposende to the Douro river, and the Ave river”. This fact justifies the huge bird diversity and the establishment of the Bird Ringing Station in this area.


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