What have we learned from banding studies?

About banding

Banding has revealed some startling facts about Australia's birds. For example, most small bush birds (robins, wrens etc.) never move far from where they were born, yet Silvereyes fly anything up to 2100 km north from Tasmania and Victoria to escape the winter cold. In Europe, small perching birds seldom live more than 5-7 years, but similar Australian birds such as the White-browed Scrubwren can live up to 15 years. Although 'oldest' and 'longest movement' records are fascinating, averages are much more important to people who are studying birds.

Average lifespan and oldest known bird in different bird species
Species Average lifespan (years) Oldest known bird (years)
Grey Fantail 1 9
New Holland Honeyeater 2 14=>
Superb Fairy-wren 2 10>
Silvereye 2 11
Pied Currawong 4 24
Australian Magpie 4 23
Little Penguin 5 21
Short-tailed Shearwater 13> 37
Australasian Gannet 21 30

Little penguins

More than 16 000 Little Penguins have been banded at Phillip Island in Victoria since 1965. While there is still a lot to learn about Little Penguins, recoveries of tagged birds has given us the following picture.

  • When newly-fledged Little Penguins leave home, they mostly move south and west around Australia's coast line.
  • For the first year, it seems that these young penguins spend their time at sea, feeding and growing fat.
  • Only in their second year do they start to come home to the breeding colony.
  • About half begin breeding right away; the others start in their third year.
  • The oldest Little Penguin known to the ABBBS was 21 years old when it died. On average, Little Penguins only live for about 5 years.
Superb Fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus)

Superb Fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus)

To find out more about Little Penguins, please go to the Phillip Island Nature Park  website.

Fairy-wrens: a behavioural study

The Superb Fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus) is the common 'blue wren' of eastern Australia. A colour banding study carried out by the Australian National University in Canberra has shown that the Superb Fairy-wren has a rather complicated home life.

  • Each breeding female has a territory which it defends with the help of her partner and up to 3 of her sons.
  • All of these males help to feed the nestlings but only the female builds or repairs the nest.
  • The female's young are usually fathered by a male from an adjacent territory.
  • While young males are allowed to stay with their mother after they have fledged, young females must leave home in search of a territory of their own.

To find out more about the Australian National University's Botany and Zoology Department, please go to their website: http://online.anu.edu.au/BoZo/ 

International movements

Birds that live and feed on mudflats and ocean shores are known as waders or shorebirds. Many, such as curlews, knots and sandpipers, spend their whole lives avoiding winter. They breed in places such as Siberia, Manchuria, Northern China, Korea and Japan during the northern summer (May-July). As winter draws near, they make the long journey south for summer, and return north to their breeding grounds only when winter is over. About 2 million waders make a 20 000 km round trip to Australia - every year!

Sightings of leg flags on waders have begun to show the routes migrating waders follow and which feeding grounds they use on the way. If you look carefully, there is a yellow lag flag on one of the birds in the picture. Can you find it?

Protection of these areas is important to conserving migratory waders. Australia is a party to several international treaties aimed at protecting waders and/or their habitat. These include the Japan-Australia Migratory Birds Agreement, the China-Australia Migratory Birds Agreement, the Bonn Convention and the Ramsar Convention From recoveries and sightings of leg flags we now know that Curlew Sandpipers and other migratory birds use this East Asia Flyway on their migration. They must feed often on the way and protection of their feeding grounds (mudflats etc) is essential to their conservation. For more information on migratory waders visit the Australasian Wader Studies Group website .

Map of Migratory Birds

Map of Migratory Birds