The Colour Mark Register

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

 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

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. If you are a ringer or wader biologist hoping to colour-mark shorebirds in Europe or the East-Atlantic flyway, EURING requires you to contact the Register to discuss options and the registration of a marking scheme.


“All ringers conducting colour-marking studies throughout this flyway must register their schemes to ensure no overlap with existing schemes.”

EURING and IWSG protocol for approving colour-marking schemes for waders

  1. It is agreed between EURING and IWSG that all colour-markng schemes for waders must be coordinated and approved by the IWSG (
  2. Ringers must have a licence/permit to colour mark from their ringing scheme. They must ensure that their licence/permit covers the type of mark (flag, colour ring, geolocator etc) and position on the leg which is proposed by the IWSG. Note that some ringing schemes may have restrictions on the use of flags on some species, the use of rings on the tibea and use of geolocators.
  1. Ringers colour-marking birds in countries other than that for which they have their licence/permit must have their marking scheme, which is approved by the IWSG, also approved by the ringing scheme or relevant authority in that country.
  1. When approving schemes the IWSG will inform the ringer about the licensing conditions under points 2 and 3.
  1. The IWSG will send a copy of the approval to the relevant ringing scheme.
  1. IWSG will inform the relevant ringing scheme if they think that a scheme is unsound or will not solve the questions that the project is addressing. The ringing scheme must then decide whether they want the scheme to go ahead.