Bird ringing (also known as bird banding) is an aid to studying wild birds, by attaching a small individually numbered metal or plastic ring to their legs or wings, so that various aspects of the bird's life can be studied by the ability to re-find the same individual later. This can include migration, longevity, mortality, population studies, territoriality feeding behaviour, and many other aspects.
Terminology and techniques
Those who ring birds are called "bird ringers" in the UK or in some parts of Europe; elsewhere it is referred to as "bird-banding", as the shape is more band-like, than ring-like. Organized ringing efforts are called "ringing schemes" and the organizations that run them, "ringing authorities". Birds are "ringed" (rather than "rung"). In most of the world, except the UK and parts of Europe, those that "band" birds are known as "banders" and are active at "banding stations".
Birds are either ringed at the nest, or after being trapped in fine mist nets, Heligoland traps, drag nets, cannon nets, or similar methods.
A ring of suitable size is attached (usually made of aluminum or other light-weight material), and has on it a unique number, plus a contact address. The bird is often weighed and measured, examined for data relevant to the ringer's project, and then released. The rings are very light-weight, and have no adverse effect on the birds. The individual birds can then be identified when they are re-trapped, or found dead.
When a ringed bird is found, and the ring number read and reported back to the ringer or ringing authority, this is termed a "ringing recovery" or "control". The finder can contact the address on the ring, give the unique number, and be told the known history of the bird's movements. Some national ringing/banding authorities also accept reports by phone or on official web sites.
The organizing body, by collating many such reports, can then determine patterns of bird movements for large populations. Non-ringing/banding scientists can also obtain data for use in bird related research.
The earliest attempt to mark a bird was by one Quintus Fabius Pictor. This Roman officer, during the Punic Wars around 218-201 BC, was sent a swallow by a besieged garrison. He used a thread on its leg to send a message back. A knight interested in chariot races during the time of Pliny (AD 1) would take swallows to Volterra, 135 miles (217 km) away and release them with information on the race winners.
Falconers in the Middle Ages would fit plates on their falcons with seals of their owners. From around 1560 or so, swans were marked with a swan mark, a nick on the bill.
Ringing of birds for scientific purposes was started in 1899 by Christian Mortensen, a Danish schoolteacher. He used zinc rings on European Starlings. The first ringing scheme was established in Germany in 1903 at the Vogelwarte in Rossiten on the Baltic Coast. This was followed by Hungary in 1908, Great Britain in 1909 (by Arthur Landsborough Thomson in Aberdeen and Harry Witherby in England), Yugoslavia in 1910 and the Scandinavian countries between 1911 and 1914.