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IWSG Banner. Photos by Jan van der Kam and Simon Gillings

Why colour mark? Why coordinate? Why report?

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Why colour mark waders?

Shorebirds are among the most migratory of all bird species. They also inhabit some of the largest and least accessible wetlands on earth. To understand more about their immense migrations we need to be able to track where individuals go. Conventional ringing using metal bands tells us much, but recapturing them in their far-flung destinations is far from easy.

Colour-marking offers a solution. Shorebird researchers fit plastic colour rings that can be visible in the field, often at great range. Researchers and birdwatchers alike seeing birds bearing colour rings can submit the sightings thus gradually building up a fascinating picture of the movements of individual birds. Further down the page are two examples of movements by a Black-tailed Godwit and a Ruff, both originally ringed in the Netherlands.

Why coordinate colour marking?

Not surprisingly, with such potential for long distance movements, it is crucial that wader biologists working at opposite ends of the globe avoid using the same colour marks on different individuals otherwise sightings cannot be traced back to the correct bird.

To prevent this the IWSG and others coordinate the global use of colour marks on shorebirds. For information on coordination of colour marks click here.

If you are a ringer or wader biologist hoping to colour-mark shorebirds in a the East-Atlantic flyway please contact the IWSG Colour-mark Register

For other regions, see here.

Reporting colour mark sightings?

You can play your part in unravelling the biology and migrations of shorebirds by keeping an eye open for colour-marked shorebirds. Wader biologists are very keen to hear from you if you have seen one of their birds, and will want to know the location, date and the full combination of colour marks seen (and those bits of the leg you couldn't see!), so be sure to note this information when you are out birdwatching.

For more information on the types of colour-marks you may see, click here. Examples of the different colours and types of marks and some useful tips for how to record sightings most effectively can be found here.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit individual by Feike van der Leij

This individual was originally ringed at Workum, The Netherlands (blue icon) in May 2004 and has since been resighted back there each spring, as well as on its wintering grounds in Spain, Portugal and even Senegal in September 2007. Zoom in to see which fields it uses in the Netherlands....
Data courtesy of Jos Hooijmeijer.


Ruff individual by John Ball

This individual was originally ringed at Workum, The Netherlands (blue icon) in April 2004. It has since been seen many times in the area, but also further afield. Zoom out to see where.....
Data courtesy of Jos Hooijmeijer.
IWSG ~ shorebird research and conservation

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