Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory (SBBO) was initially a ringing station (1952). Our ringing operations have been continuous ever since, providing information on the survival, productivity and movements of birds in the area thus helping us to understand how populations are changing and providing some answers to questions that are vital for bird conservation. This contributes to our charitable aim of monitoring the natural environment of Sandwich Bay.

The British and Irish Ringing Scheme is organised and regulated by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). Over 900,000 birds are ringed in Britain and Ireland each year by over 2,600 trained ringers, most of whom are volunteers. Our work at Sandwich Bay feeds into the national BTO database which in turn feeds into the European database (Euring) to provide valuable insights into the national and international situation of our birds.

Placing a lightweight, uniquely numbered, metal ring around a bird’s leg provides a reliable and harmless method of identifying birds as individuals. Ringing allows us to study how many young birds leave the nest and survive to become adults, as well as how many adults survive the stresses of breeding, migration and severe weather. Changes in survival rates and other aspects of birds’ biology help us to understand the causes of population declines.

Although we, in Britain and Ireland, have been ringing birds for over 100 years, we are still discovering new facts about migration routes and wintering areas. Some of this benefits from new technology. At SBBO we have had a 'Motus' aerial array on the tower since 2020. This can detect birds (and other creatures including bats) with radio telemetry tags fitted and gives more information about direction and speed of flight.

There is more general information on ringing on the BTO website.

Generally, at Sandwich Bay we try to ring whenever it is possible and appropriate to do so as per our obligations as an accredited bird observatory. What we do and when we do it is, however, dependent on a range of things including time of year, weather conditions, what the birds are doing and number of trained ringers. Most ringing takes place early in the morning.

Since 1953 we have ringed over 440,000 birds of 224 species. In 2020 we ringed over 7,000 birds of 59 species.

We offer a programme of training to ring in line with BTO regulations. All ringers in the UK are licensed by permit from the BTO. Anyone interested in learning to ring at SBBO is offered taster sessions. If what they experience attracts them, they can then join the group and begin to progress through clear criteria over several years towards becoming a fully licensed ringer.

You can also help our ringing programme by reporting any ringed or marked birds that you observe or find dead. There are many colour ringing projects in the UK and around the world which rely on reports from the general public for some of their results. Members have reported many birds, some of which have been discovered from photographs, from a variety of species which has added valuable data to several of these programmes.

At SBBO we currently have two colour ringing projects linked to a national Re-trapping Adults for Survival survey. We have put over 1200 red rings with unique white alpha-numeric codes on House Sparrows and blue ones on Collared Doves. We would be delighted to receive any reports of sightings of these or any other birds with colour rings or other individual marks. Please send these to the Warden or the Ringing Team. If you find a bird elsewhere you can report it here

Here at Sandwich, we use several methods to catch the birds. One of the main methods is using mist nets; they have a very fine mesh that allows a bird to be held securely and safely in a pocket of netting. We have a Heligoland trap, which is a large mesh funnel through which birds can fly towards a catching box. We also have two crow traps which can be baited to attract birds. All of these methods are at fixed sites.

We also have several other types of traps which can be used where necessary in other parts of the recording area. Mist nets can also be erected away from the permanent sites when required. We monitor a large number of nest boxes across our recording area from Blue Tits to Barn Owls, and, when time allows, we try to monitor nests that we find in the environment.

You can find out more detail about our ringing activities on the ringing-log pages of this website and in our SBBO annual reports.

Visitors are welcome to observe our ringing activities at our purpose-built ringing room where the ringers will provide information on their activities. If you are interested to find out more and maybe consider joining our ringing group, please make contact with the ringing team leader Ian Hunter at the Observatory or by email.

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