Colour-marking of waders

This post is also available in: Русский (Russian)

 What is colour-marking?To get information from a bird ringed with a standard metal ring requires that the bird need to be recaptured, shot or found dead. Individual or group marking of birds with bright marks allowing to record their identity from a distance is known as colour-marking. In the case of waders this technique can lead to more effective accumulation of data on migrations compared with conventional ringing. Dyeing of feathers, neck collars, ties, nasal discs, wing-marks, colour plastic pendants or covers on standard metal rings and plastic leg rings (numbered or not, single or in sets) can be used as colour marks. Several of these techniques were described in a paper by A.A. Vinokurov and A.A. Kischintsky (1976) and in a volume of International Wader Studies, Vol. 6, but new methods were developed later. Dyeing of feathers is not suitable for long-term marking, while some techniques (e.g., plastic neck collars, ties, nasal discs, wing-marks) are known or suspected to increase mortality of birds. Accordingly, marking of waders with plastic colour leg rings and flags made from ultraviolet-resistant Polyvinyl chloride polymer (PVC, or Darvic) has become the most popular worldwide as a type of marks the least harmful to birds.

Coordination of colour-marking. Apart of apparent benefits over conventional ringing colour-marking has several draw-backs, including limited number of distinguishable colours of plastic and accordingly combinations of rings available to researchers. This results in a high probability of using same combinations of rings by different researchers, and mixing-up of records of birds from different studies due to long-distant migrations of waders. Thus, increasing use of colour-marking made necessary coordination of colour-schemes between researchers.

While contacts with scientists abroad were restricted in the USSR, the WGW made an attempt to coordinate colour-marking of waders within the country with help of A.A. Vinokurov and E.I. Gavrilov (see their publications in first issues of the “Information Materials of the WGW”. Coordination of colour-marking of waders was considerably hampered then by inaccessibility of high-quality plastic which was surrogated with plastic from toys, rulers, etc. The situation have changed in mid 1990s when colour-marking of waders almost ceased in CIS countries, but international connections have developed, and support of the National-Park Schlezvig-Holstein Wattenmeer (Germany) allowed the WGW to receive high-quality colour plastic for researchers. Since that time the WGW provides plastic to its members on conditions listed below, while coordination of colour-marking is conducted internationally.

Remaining problems in colour-marking. Currently colour-marking of waders is coordinated by three centers (see addresses below), responsible for (1) North and South America, (2) Europe and Africa and (3) East Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Coordinators of these regions almost do not interact, while Central Asian Flyway is left out entirely. All flyways of waders intersect on the breeding grounds of waders in Russia, particularly in north Siberia, which makes choice of appropriate colour-marking scheme(s) difficult and implies probabilistic assessment of belonging of a population of waders to a flyway. When working in some regions of the Arctic ringing schemes need to be agreed with coordinators of different regions depending on presumed direction of migration of studied populations. However, this does not resolve all problems, because, for example, Curlew Sandpipers from Taimyr can fly to Europe, Africa, India and Australia, which makes finding unused combination of colour rings for this population almost impossible. Ringing schemes coordinated from America and Australia and based on assigning specific colours to countries do not allocate colours for birds from the whole or parts of Siberia, Russia.

Another unresolved problem of colour-marking is due to absence in most regions of the world with the exception of East Asian-Ausralasian Flyway of accumulation of data based on sight records of colour-marked birds. Regional coordinators of colour-marking are only responsible for allocation of colour schemes and informing of ringers about observations of birds with their marks. Thus, a lot of valuable information is being lost.

Regional peculiarity of colour-marking schemes and contact information. Colour-marking schemes and approaches to data accumulation differ among three global regions where colour-marking is coordinated.

Europe and Africa. Coordinator, acceded by the International Wader Study Group, allocates marking schemes regardless of country of colour-marking or duration of scheme use. Intensive colour-marking of waders in Western Europe has led to necessity of putting sometimes up to 4 rings on one leg of a bird to prevent duplication of schemes.

International Wader Study Group Colourmark register,,

North and South America. Combinations of 1-2 colour flags (rings with extending flap) indicating marking area have been assigned to all countries of the region. Individual marking is based on putting combinations of colour rings in addition to obligatory flags.

Coordinator: Lesley Howes, Bird Banding Biologist, National Wildlife Research Centre, Canadian Wildlife Service, 1125 Colonel By Drive / Raven Road, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0H3 CANADA. Telephone: 613-998-0515, Fax : 613-998-0458, Email:, Website:, REPORT BANDS ONLINE AT

East Asian-Ausralasian Flyway (East Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Alaska). Combinations of 1-2 colour flags (rings with extending flap) indicating marking area have been assigned to most countries and/or subregions. Individual marking is based on putting combinations of colour rings in addition to obligatory flags. All recoveries of colour-marked waders in this part of the world are carefully accumulated in a database and published in Australian ornithological journals. Reviews of migratory links of waders are published there more often than elsewhere in the world.

Coordinator: Mr. Doug Watkins, Wetlands International – Oceania. PO Box 787, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia. E-mail:

Observations of waders with colour marks on this flyway should be reported to Dr. Clive Minton, 165 Dalgetty Road, Beaumaris, Vic. 3193, Australia. E-mail:

Distribution of plastic available in the WGW for colour-marking of waders. PVC plastic (Darvic) of several colours (black, white, yellow, red, green, blue, pale blue) is available at the WGW for colour-marking of waders by the group members. Plastic is supplied only on submission of documents confirming final agreement of colour-marking scheme(s) with a coordinator of a flyway corresponding to a study area or wader species. Such agreement requires considerable time even using e-mail, and applicants are advised to undertake all necessary communications in advance.

Where to find information about marked birds?Researchers spend a lot of time and effort to ring and colour-mark birds, and accordingly are strongly interested in learning about records of their birds, which can be essential for conducted study and conservation of birds. Sight records of colour-marked birds should be reported to ringer by national ringing center or regional colour-marking coordinator/register after receiving of information. However, advances of electronic communications led to the situation when some sight records of colour-marked birds are not reported to regional colour-marking coordinators, but instead appear on special sites on colour-marking or more general websites for birders. Checking of the special sites on colour-marking of birds gives chances to discover information about marked birds.

Cited literature

A.A. Vinokurov and A.A. Kischintsky. 1976. Methods of bird marking. Ringing for studies of migrations of birds in USSR. M.: Nauka. P. 182-208.

Colour Flagging Protocol for Migratory Shorebirds in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.