Ringing Of Hobbies

20th October 2011

Hobby EW 72211 – recovery and complaint

In August 2009 I and four others were involved in the recovery, treatment and release of a hobby – a migratory kestrel sized bird of prey (for those not familiar with this species). It was spotted dangling from a branch high up in a tree near Oldcotes in Nottinghamshire. Recovery was difficult due to the strong wind and position of the bird. When recovered the bird had lost the use of one leg and its predicament appeared to have been caused by something (perhaps a small twig) caught between its left leg and coloured plastic rings.

Full details and written accounts by all those involved are available but not referred to further at this time except to say that the bird was examined by one of the country’s top avian vets (Nigel Harcourt Brown) and we have a written report which clearly agrees with our assessment of how the bird came to be injured, that is, that the rings, particularly poorly fitted in this case, were more than likely responsible.

I would draw your attention to attached Image No.2 taken immediately following recovery. The vets report is available from the writer or the Ringing Office. Further images and related items can be viewed at www.flickr.com/photos/geoffsrings

All those concerned with this recovery were appalled not only by the standard of ringing but that a small raptor should be fitted with four rings which would or could inevitably create problems. After taking expert advice in all aspects of this case I, being a BTO member for over twelve years, made representations to the BTO Ringing Office. I was aware that the Ringing Office is notorious for its defence of ringing practices and I was warned by “friendly” ringers and others that it would deny responsibility and that is exactly what happened. In deed, because the of the high profile of the ringing group in question I was told by a confidential BTO source that the Ringing Office would “see hell freeze over” before it allowed any suggestion that it (the Ringing Office) or one of its flagship ringing groups might be guilty of poor or inappropriate ringing practices.

The Ringing Office delayed an official decision until January 2010 when they claimed that the ringing was acceptable and not to blame. Images were also sent to the Director who fully supported the conclusions of the Ringing Office. Dr. Clements was also given the opportunity to discuss this matter and our concerns at that time but ignored the invitation. At no time was the matter treated with any degree of urgency, no one even asked about the bird’s progress and from the outset my impression was that the Ringing Office was putting up the shutters and more concerned with protecting its image than it was with addressing a potentially serious problem. Evidence presented to the committee which adjudicated on this matter was incomplete, prejudiced and seriously flawed (an opinion which I think will be born out by examination of the many E-mails between the writer and the Ringing Office). It also occurred to me that there did not appear to be any mechanism for a proper and impartial investigation, ringers being solely judged by ringers (I would suggest is not ideal). “Like a man before the court charged with being drunk and disorderly where the judge and jury are all his boozing mates”. There is a rather arrogant assumption that only BTO ringers know anything about ringing and anyone else’s opinions are of no consequence.

Colour ringing of Hobbies – Why?

I understand that colour ringing projects should only be permitted if there is a really good reason and there is no perceived risk to the species involved. It is almost impossible to obtain information regarding current and past colour ringing projects from the web site or Ringing Office even though the BTO purports to be open about its activities. Expert opinion, as obtained by me, is that the hobby is not a suitable candidate for colour ringing for the following reasons:

The species is of no UK or European conservation concern at this time and much of its behaviour and movements already known. Any further findings would be of a “nice to know” nature only.
The way in which the hobby catches prey could be seriously affected by the fitting of four rings to such a small raptor which relies on speed and agility.
There is an increased risk of becoming “caught up” or of leg infections if food debris or foreign objects becomes lodged between rings and leg. These dangers are well known to falconers and those who keep birds and fit rings similar to the “flat band” rings fitted in this case, I have used these rings for about seven years myself so have personal experience.
The chances of spotting the rings are extremely remote, almost impossible to see in flight and nearly as difficult when perched, whether here or in (African) wintering grounds. This point is verified by experienced bird watchers.

I would at this point refer to an article in the BTO News (See BTO News issue 288 page 15) re colour ringing of Hobbies. Knowing at the time that I and those connected with the recovery of EW72211 intended to take this matter further; this “PR” article appears to have been hurriedly put together and does little to justify such an invasive practice, even with properly fitted rings. The main thrust of the argument is that one metal ring has not resulted in enough ring recoveries so fit three additional colour rings. Whose benefit is this for? Hobbies or ringers?

I would ask “what next” if three extra rings do not bring the desired results? Perhaps more leg rings, one round the neck, wing tags and if the bird can still fly how about a tail streamer! And all for what, so we can maybe establish that males return two weeks before females and perch in the third tree on the left whereas females land in the second on the right?

I would also draw your attention to the fact that no image of the rings or ringing is included in this article. This is surprising; one might be forgiven for thinking that as the article is exclusively about colour ringing of hobbies and how proud the BTO is the quality of ringing, readers might be shown an image of how this is done. All we get is a photo of fluffy chicks in the nest.

Recovery of colour ringed hobby EW 72175

This bird was recovered by a member of the public on 25th August 2010 and taken to my colleague, Brian Lowde. It was mal nourished and unable to fly. The bird was found in the vicinity of a road but examination under anaesthetic and x-rays indicated no sign of trauma or broken bones but did show a single shotgun pellet still located in position not causing immediate concern. This was not a recent injury and considered not to be directly connected to the bird’s present predicament. We know that ringing took place in 2008 and examination of the colour rings indicated, once again, very poor fitting with rings being glued in place before they had allowed to return to original diameter, thus each of the three rings is of a different diameter as with EW 72211. In my opinion there is no excuse for this and furthermore there is no reason to glue this type of ring. In fact gluing creates problems possibly contributing to the issue raised in the next paragraph.

We have had professional images taken of the rings and note from these that one ring is cracked. (See image No. 2). This even more worrying and according to those who have seen this image is more than likely due to poor fitting practice rather than faulty ring material although this cannot be completely ruled out