Thursday, 12 February 2015

Bird bands and flags

The study of birds has long been aided by banding, as it is especially useful to learn about their movements, range and how long individuals live.
Small, light and durable metal bands imprinted with a code/number and possibly contact details are fitted to bird’s legs. Obviously to fit bands, birds must be in the hand, which means they must first be captured. The easiest way is to capture birds is as chicks, before they fly, at nests or in breeding rookeries for example. For older birds, mist nets or canon nets are required to catch flying or resting birds respectively.
Juvenile Crested Tern with metal band on right leg.
This Crested Tern is a juvenile and it has a metal leg band. The bird was photographed on the ocean beach at Lakes Entrance on the 14th of June 2012. Obviously it is not possible to read the imprinted information on the band unless the bird was either recaptured or found dead. To determine when and where the Tern was banded would require the number on the metal band.
In this case the Victoria Wader Study Group (VWSG) were able to advise that this juvenile bird, along with 649 other chicks, would have been banded by them at Corner Inlet in late 2011. They also advised that Crested Terns move east after breeding so finding one at Lakes Entrance five to six months after the banding is consistent. They also continue east and then north with some reaching as far as the Queensland border.
More recently birds are not only being banded but are often fitted with coloured plastic tags or flags which has the great advantage of allowing individual birds to be identified in the field with binoculars or a spotting scope or the details can be captured with a digital camera as the following photos show.
There are two methods for the use of plastic flags.
One method involves up to three small coloured flags often with one on the leg with the metal band and two on the other leg. The colour combination allows identification of an individual bird without the need to recapture it.
The colour leg flags on bird at left tells us this is Om/OLg. The middle bird is a juvenile and the other two are adults (fully black hoods). They were photographed at Mushroom Reef Beach, Flinders, on the Mornington Peninsula
The history of the flagged bird was tracked down via Dr. Grainne Maguire, BirdLife Australia, Project Manager, Beach-nesting Birds.
This bird is Om/OLg and it was banded at Berrys Beach on the 11th of February 2010 by Phillip Island Nature Parks. It was last seen at Kitty Miller Bay on Phillip Island on 17/07/12. From November 2012 onwards it has been resident at Flinders beach where I photographed it on 31/07/14. So the bird was 4.5 years old and for about the first 2 ½ years this bird lived on Phillip Island, then for the last 2 years at Flinders on the Mornington Peninsula. This bird was reported to have made several nesting attempts at Flinders Beach but alas all were unsuccessful.
Little Tern with flags, Jones Bay, Gippsland Lakes. This is the same three flag method used for the Hooded Plover above. I have no information for this bird.
The second flagging method involves just one flag with engraved letters and or a letter/number code, which enables individual birds to be identified.
Hooded Plover with flag CS at St Andrews Beach, Mornington Peninsula National Park.
Once again Dr. Grainne Maguire was able to advise that this bird was tagged in 2011 making it about 3 years old when it was photographed. The interesting information provided in this case was that CS was not a juvenile as the streaky head colour suggests but is a leucistic bird. For years it was being counted in the area as a young bird and over inflating breeding success values.
Hooded Plover LC at St Andrews Beach, December 2014.
 Hooded Plover LC was one of six adult HP’s on a section of St Andrews Beach, which at the time were breeding with one chick hatched and another bird sitting on eggs.
Juvenile Caspian Tern D3 with banded adult (parent?).
Juvenile Caspian Tern D3 was photographed with a parent bird, which is banded but not flagged, at Storm Point, Lake Victoria on the Gippsland Lakes on 5/02/15. Another adult bird was also close by so perhaps this was a young bird with its parents.
The sighting was reported to the Australian Government bird and bat banding scheme (ABBBS). In due course I received a letter advising that the bird was banded and flagged by the VWSG on the 12/11/2014 on Mud Island in Port Phillip Bay. The bird is about 3 months old and it has moved approximately 268 kms east since it was banded.
Tracking birds is now moving beyond bands and flags into a very high tech era with geo-locators being fitted to birds, which are then tracked by satellites. This has allowed the amazing migration flights of waders to and from their northern hemisphere breeding grounds in the high arctic to be mapped in exquisite detail.
But still, on the ground, much of the bird tracking via banding is achieved by the efforts of hard working and dedicated volunteers. The key to the success of all banding is to retrieve the bands or obtain reports of flagged birds throughout their lives. So when we see a flagged bird it is really useful to try and capture the colour and code and report it to ABBBS.
Or email photos and details to:

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