Monday, 11 July 2011

Are wing tags really necessary?

This image isn't posted because it has any photographic merit. It doesn't – the pair of Marsh Harriers (Circus aeruginosus) were too far away for any meaningful shot. Rather, the shot is here to illustrate what I fear may be a somewhat controversial question. 

First, let me make it absolutely clear that I totally support the study of wild birds, indeed all animals, for the furtherance of our understanding of them. I studied zoology and ecology at university and am convinced that it is principally by learning more about our native flora and fauna that we will be best positioned to ensure their long-term wellbeing. The more we know, the better the chances the species being studied will flourish. 

My question, however, is this: does the tagging of some animals – including these harriers – have to be quite so obtrusive? There is a movement, I know, in the US against the excessive monitoring of some of that country's fauna, notably its population of wolves. Photographers, naturalists and even some conservationists argue that seemingly every other wolf wearing a collar and tracking device is not necessary, of little scientific benefit and – trivial as it may seem – spoiling the experience of those who seek to observe them in their natural habitat. 

If these North Norfolk harriers – pictured at Sculthorpe Moor – had drifted close enough to a point where a decent shot would have been possible, any such image would have been dominated by large bright green tags on each bird's wing. I am not, of course – for the reasons outlined earlier – arguing that the birds should not be closely monitored, but are such highly visible wing tags really necessary? 

One reason, of course, will be the various studies which rely on reported sightings, when observers will log the bird's location and its wing tag number. I remain unconvinced, however, that such an approach outweighs the enjoyment of seeing the (ringed) wild bird in its natural habitat without the spectacle being 'marred' by the intrusion of such highly visible tags. I happily wait to be shot down in flames…


  1. I agree with you, why must they be so obvious? I would have expected them to affect the birds in flight too.

  2. It's a necassary evil Tim. I dont like the look of them either, but they have to be highly visable so as to be recorded properly :-)

  3. Super Toad shot Tim.
    I agree with your sentiments about tagging animals and birds in particular. Rings are intrusive enough.
    It may be interesting to know that an Osprey flies to the same area in Senegal every winter (with a GPS transmitter on its back), but do we really need to know that.??

  4. Hi all. Thanks for your comments. Warren, you're right, of course, that it is a necessary evil – but surely in some cases only. Is the range of a Marsh Harrier – even a younger bird establishing its own territory with a new mate – such that it is indeed necessary to wing-tab the bird? I'm not sure.