Feathers, flyways and fast food

Original by Dr Margaret Rowe, 2002
Last revised by the Department of the Environment and Heritage, December 2004
ISBN 0 6425 4820 X

How shorebird migration is studied

Information is collected and recorded by people doing research into the lives and habits of the birds and is useful when decisions are being made about protecting the birds.

Birdcounts: These are carried out by people on foot and from light aircraft and boats.This is done largely by interested volunteers who record the numbers, species and locations of the birds they see.

Banding and flagging: Birds are trapped by catching chicks before they are able to fly or by netting adult birds. The leg of each bird is fitted with a metal band and sometimes a coloured plastic flag. The metal bands are numbered and records are kept to indicate when and where each bird was banded. Details about the bird's age, stage of moult, weight and various body measurements are also noted. The birds are then released.

The colour of the flags can be seen by using binoculars.The colour indicates the region of the flyway where the bird was flagged.

The numbers on the bands of birds trapped a second time, and those on birds found dead, also provide useful information about the movements of the birds.

Reports from different countries of sightings of flags on birds are providing the most information at the moment.

In Australia, bands are issued by the Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme. People finding dead birds with bands on them can report the band number to the Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme by telephone: (02) 6274 2407, email: abbbs@environment.gov.au or post: GPO Box 8, Canberra, ACT, 2601 Australia.

Gene technology: This is used to study relationships between different species and between groups within species.

Satellite tracking: This method is only just beginning to be used for shorebirds. Most shorebirds are too light to carry transmitters.