Friday Bird Ringing Sessions

If the weather is on your side and you’re not out in the field already , each Friday at the station can start the same way for students interested in getting to know the beautiful birdlife here in the Arctic.

At 6.30 am the wide nets near the beach and the wetlands are unfurled, ready to provide a temporary home for the willow warblers, blue throats and, if you’re lucky, kestrels which forage and hunt in the early mornings.

Common willow warbler

Common willow warbler

For the rest of the morning the bird ringing team, led by Keith Larson and made up of keen interns or interested students, set off every 40 minutes to disentangle any birds who have been caught. If they haven’t already been ringed, we take them back to the ringing station – a park bench near the beach – to begin recording them.

First up, we record the species. That part is fairly easy, as you get to know the common birds here fairly quickly. Next, we record the sex. This involves blowing on the feathers near the belly of the bird to see what lies underneath. Often during the summer breeding months, an egg can be seen growing in the belly of the females.

Establishing the age of each bird using the feathers on the wings

Establishing the age of each bird using the feathers on the wings

If we outstretch the wing, we can see whether they were born last year or earlier in the season, by checking out how many layers of feathers they have.

Then comes the weighing, which involves putting the bird upside down in a plastic tube on a weighing scale. Upside down, the bird relaxes and sits still, and a few seconds later is taken right back out for the last stage in our process: ringing.

Weighing the birds

Weighing the birds

We give them each a small aluminium ring, engraved with a unique number so we can track the individual if we recapture them, and also with a postcode, so that if they’re found dead elsewhere in the world, the rings can be mailed back to Keith and we can see how far they travel on their migrations and at what times of the year they stay there.

Fitting the unique aluminium ring to the bird’s leg

Fitting the unique aluminium ring to the bird’s leg

About the author

Words and images: Emma Brisdion, 2019