Environment - Ageing naturally

15th May 2009 at 01:00
A fulmar at Eynhallow, Orkney, is 41 and there is a 37-year-old gannet on Bass Rock - but how do we know?

Exactly 100 years ago last Friday, Aberdeen University student Arthur Landsborough Thomson and some friends became the first in Britain to put individually numbered rings, with a return address, on birds' legs in order to study them. The first birds ringed, on 8 May 1909, were six young lapwings at the Sands of Forvie in Aberdeenshire and a young starling at Inverurie.

Research initially focused on migration and remarkable results were gleaned from lapwings, herring gulls, black-headed gulls, guillemots, swallows and the song thrush. Today, bird-ringing is still integral to major research projects in ornithology and ecology.

Since those early days, more than 35 million birds covering 250 species have been ringed in Britain and Ireland.

Building on the work of those early pioneers, volunteers working with the British Trust for Ornithology now ring 850,000 birds in Britain and Ireland each year.

To mark the launch of the Aberdeen project and 100 years of organised bird-ringing, a display is being staged at Aberdeen University's zoology museum which is expected to run until the end of the month.

www.bto.orgringing.

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