01 March 2018

Retail ringing

After undertaking years of training, bird ringers are in a privileged position to be able to catch birds. The information gathered through ringing is used to help answer some of the big questions in ornithology, such as why populations are changing and what routes birds take on their migrations.

Ringing often brings ringers into contact with people who know nothing about bird ringing, and commonly have little contact with birds, other than those in their garden. This is a great opportunity to educate and enthuse the public about the lives of birds, ringing and the BTO. Most of the time, bird ringing is encountered through television programmes like Springwatch, a ringing demonstration at a local nature reserve or even the ringing demonstration at the Birdfair, but occasionally it can be seen in the most unexpected places.

Rutland Birdfair ringing demonstreration. Photo by Sam Franks.

With the permission of the landowners, ringing sessions are held up and down Britain and Ireland; in supermarket car parks (for Pied Wagtails), city streets (Waxwing), waterways (swans and geese) or on the sea front (gulls and waders). Colour rings or flags are frequently used to identify birds that are ringed without the need for ringers to catch them again. This has the added bonus that anyone (not just ringers) can report colour-marked birds (see here for instructions on how to report a sighting of a colour-marked bird), as long as the species is known and the combination is read correctly.

Waxwings enjoying the berry bushes. Photo by Jeff Baker

Occasionally, perfectly healthy birds do get into trouble and end up in places they don't want to be. If they are lucky, the bird identifies the exit and promptly flies out, but sometimes this doesn't happen due to the nature of the building (a large warehouse or a shop with automatic doors for instance). This can lead to store alarms having to be left unset, which has implications for their insurance and can be stressful for the owner. This is where a ringer's ability to catch birds safely can be invaluable.

Ringers across the country regularly step in to help catch the Blackbird in the warehouse, the Blue Tit in the shopping centre or the Robin at the wedding venue (as we have posted previously). Here at BTO HQ, we do not get that many phone calls about birds trapped in Thetford, Norfolk (where we are based), but today was the exception. The caller informed us that: "There is a Robin trapped in Poundland and it can't get out!!!! We've tried everything, including herding it towards the door, but it keeps flying back into the store!".

Robin doing a bit of light shopping in the afternoon. Photo by Lee Barber

Conveniently coming up to lunch time, Lee Barber had the opportunity to nip out and try and release the bird back into the wild. He recounts: it is a strange feeling putting a mist net up in Poundland, with customers wandering around and a Robin flying over their heads, moving mostly unseen. After a quick assessment of the Robin's behaviour and its preferred area in the store, and whilst managing the customers, I quickly put a short mist net up. Within 15 minutes I'd caught the adult Robin, which was promptly ringed and released outside (after a quick health check).

Robin safely in the hand ready for release. Photo by Lee Barber
As this is something that the BTO doesn't do routinely, we must say a huge thank you to all the ringers that we've contacted who have dropped everything to help a bird in need. Some of the locations have been very challenging due to the height of the building, access, and other obstacles in the way, but there is usually a happy ending; sometimes the bird has even left the building of its own accord before the ringer gets there.

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