Can you help us track down when and where these birds were ringed as they do not conform to any known schemes in the IWSG Colour Marks Register. If you can help, email
Mystery schemes
Below you will find a link to download a Google spreadsheet containing the latest version of the Colour Mark Register for Europe and the East Atlantic flyway. This is an extract of a larger database and meant for the following purposes:
  • for observers to match their sightings
  • for ringers to check the details of their existing schemes
  • for Ringing Offices to check which schemes are in operation in their region
For Black-tailed Godwits, Sanderlings and Red Knot, it is a good idea to look at the information for observers page before delving into the register. Owing to the complexities around many of the older schemes, it is not possible to use this file to design a new marking scheme. If you wish to colour mark a species please contact us by email at
The Register
There are many old schemes for this species, but we do not know how many combinations each one used, or whether they are still active. Ole Thorup is reviewing all schemes in the Colour Mark Register.
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus
Some species have been very popular for research projects involving colour-ringing. For such species it is increasingly difficult to find schemes that do not overlap existing schemes. We are keen to hear from ringers and researchers who have had schemes for any of the following species so that we can clarify which combinations were used so that new schemes can go ahead. Click on a species to read about specific issues and questions relating to the species.  
Problem species

Sightings in North and South America and the Caribbean

The IWSG database does not cover colour marking in the Americas. Sightings in the Americas should be reported to or
Other flyways

Example 1: Ruff with rings and flags

[caption id="attachment_574" align="alignleft" width="105"]flaggedruff2-367px Click to enlarge[/caption] On this bird we are fortunate to be able to see all of both legs. Note that the bird's left leg is on the ground, and its right leg is raised. Look carefully at the left leg. There is nothing above the 'knee' and below there is clearly a blue ring, but slightly obscured in the grass is a white ring below that. We read the combination starting from the top of the left leg as 'nothing over blue-white'. A useful notation for recording this is to draw a cross to indicate left and right leg, and above and below the knee and enter what you see in each quadrant. Now look at the right leg and see the metal ring above the knee (note it is shiny and hints of the engraved numbers). Below the knee is a white ring, then a red flag, then a white ring. This would be 'metal over white-red flag-white' .

Example 2: Red Knot with inscribed flag

[caption id="attachment_584" align="alignleft" width="109"]rekn-fl[unk]-367px Click to enlarge[/caption]On this knot we can see most of both legs but the bottom of the bird's right leg is slightly obscured in the mud. The bird's left leg clearly has a blue ring above the 'knee' and nothing below. We read the combination starting from the top of the left leg as 'blue over nothing'. A useful notation for recording this is to draw a cross to indicate left and right leg, and above and below the knee and enter what you see in each quadrant. It is useful to note a 'dash' indicating that this part of the leg was seen and no rings were present. Now look at the right leg. Above the knee is a pale green (lime) flag bearing the inscription "UNK", which is written as FL[UNK] or 'flag lime UNK'. There are no rings visible on the lower part of the right leg, but we can't see the whole leg due to the mud. To indicate this in the diagram we enter a question mark. It is very helpful to indicate which parts of the leg weren't seen so as to differentiate from no ring present.

Example 3: Oystercatcher

[caption id="attachment_581" align="alignleft" width="76"]Oystercatcher Click to enlarge[/caption] This Oystercatcher has a red colour ring on its upper left. On its lower left is a lime ring inscribed (in white) with the letter H. On its right left there is a metal ring on the upper leg and a black-inscribed orange ring bearing the letter K.
Examples of colour-marked waders
You will rarely see a bird bearing just a single colour rings or flag. More often you'll see combinations of rings and flags that, tells us something about the bird; either its individual identify, or for example, the location it breeds or the year it hatched. You will need to note the colour of each mark, whether they bear any inscriptions, and the positions of each mark.

Different colours of ring or flag to look for

A range of colours are used for colour-marking, the commonest being: white, black, yellow, orange, red, light green, dark green, pale blue and dark blue. Other colours used include: light pink, dark pink, pink, purple, brown and grey. Each colour has a single code letter to facilitate short-hand notation of sightings. Most are simply the first letter of the colour. An exception is Black, which is coded 'N' for Noir to avoid confusion with 'B' for Blue. In addition, the metal ring is usually coded as 'm'. Common colours and their codes:
Colur name
Pale Blue
  Additional colours and their codes:
Colur name
Light pink
Dark pink

Positions on the leg

What many people call the birds 'knee' (actually its ankle) divides a bird's leg into two sections. The upper ('tibia') and lower ('tarsus'). Each part may have a different set of marks, so you will need to note whether rings/flags are on the 'upper left', 'lower left', 'upper right' or 'lower right', and of course the ordering of any marks within each. See these examples for more information.  

A few simple rules will help to ensure the combination is reported accurately:

  1. Know your left and right - it may sound daft, but this is the commonest error. Report the rings on the bird's left leg, followed by those on its right leg.
  2. Waders wade - sooner or later you'll see a colour-marked wader standing in water. If you can't see the lower half of the legs, tell us so we don't assume no rings were present.
Describing combinations

Have you seen a colour-marked shorebird in Europe or the East Atlantic Flyway?

If so, please follow this three-step-approach:
  1. Was it a Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa? Please directly contact the IWSG species coordinator for Black-tailed Godwit at
  2. Was it a Sanderling Calidris alba? Please report sightings of Sanderlings on - this requires creating an account on AnimalTrack which takes 1 minute. If for whatever reason this fails, contact the IWSG species coordinator for Sanderling at
  3. Was it a Knot Calidris canutusIf so, please check the easy to use Photoguide to Red Knot colour-ring schemes.
  4. Was it a Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica? If so, please check the easy to use guide here.
  5. If it was not a Black-tailed Godwit or a Sanderling or a Red Knot, please use the IWSG Colour Mark Register to find the project where the bird may have come from.
For tips on how to describe a colour-mark combination see here, and also some examples here. The latest version of the Register can be downloaded here. Alternative options include:
Information for Observers

The IWSG Colour-mark Register is the definitive database of all colour-marking schemes for waders in Europe and the East Atlantic flyway.

The Register has two main purposes:
  • to ensure that colour-marking projects are unique and cannot duplicate existing marked birds
  • to enable observers of marked birds to submit sightings and gain feedback on their observations
The Colour Mark Register
EURING requires that all ringers wishing to colour-mark waders within Europe must first discuss the registration of their scheme with the IWSG Colour Mark Register. Wader ringing has a long history, and individuals of many species are long lived, so many potential permutation of rings and flags are already in use. It is essential for current and future projects that colour-mark use is coordinated to prevent duplication. We welcome discussion with ringers regarding their planned projects.
Information for Ringers