25.02.2019 change 25.02.2019

Polish support for ornithologists from Mexico on creating bird ringing system

Ornithologists from the Baltic Action, which has been setting global trends in bird ringing for years, train their Mexican colleagues. They have just completed the preparation of a comprehensive bird ringing system for this country, Dr. Jarosław Nowakowski from the Baltic Action reports.

The Mexican bird ringing system was launched in February 2019. It was created based on the experience of the Baltic Action, as well as the Polish Bird Ringing Centre of the Museum and Institute of Zoology PAS, the SE European Bird Migration Network (SEEN) and the European Union for Bird Ringing (EURING). The University of Gdańsk assisted ornithologists from Mexico during its creation.

The project leader at the University of Gdańsk is Dr. Jarosław K. Nowakowski from the Bird Migration Research Station, head of the Baltic Sea Action Research Program and chairman of the Baltic Action Foundation Council. Another Polish scientists is involved on the Mexican side: Dr. Mariusz Janczur Feret, who has lived and worked in Mexico for years, and now works at the Autonomous University of Mexico State in Toluca.

According to Dr. Nowakowski, Mexican ornithologists did not have any bird ringing system. "Everyone could make their own ring there with any inscription, many people used American rings. Ringing was carried out randomly, for example as an attraction for American tourists, and even if regular research was carried out - after it was completed and some results were published, priceless data would be lost in the researcher`s drawer" - he says.

In 2016, Dr. Mariusz Janczur Feret came up with the initiative to create a ringing system in Mexico, modelled on the one in Poland. As a result, the head of the Baltic Action has been training ornithologists in Mexico for three years. The training started with the basics: what ringing involves, what data and types of scientific materials are collected, how to determine the sex and age of captured birds. Mexican ornithologists (7 people in total) came to the Baltic Action for training and consultations.

In the beginning of February 2019, another workshop was held at the research station in Los Tuxtlas, Veracruz, this time for people from various research centres in Mexico. During the workshop, the establishment of the Mexican Bird-Ringing System was announced. Dr. Nowakowski trained Mexican ornithologists in the collection and analysis of data obtained during the ringing process. Ethical matters related to bird ringing were discussed.

Head of the Baltic Action points out that today bird ringing is more than fitting a ring. "Birds are weighed and measured, their condition and plumage is described, in many cases we take blood samples for genetic and biochemical research, we collect epidemiological material, we fit birds with geolocators (tracking devices), we carry out various experiments. We are working on a system of automatic acoustic registration of flight. The Baltic Action field stations are a complex scientific machine" - he says. That is why - in addition to trainings - Dr. Nowakowski and his Mexican colleagues design methodical and organizational standards, databases, size system and ring markings.

"We initially used Polish rings to ring birds in Mexico" - recalls Dr. Nowakowski. Since the summer of 2018, ornithologists from the Autonomous University of Mexico State in Toluca not only have adopted Polish standards, they also have their own rings, for the first time with the inscription: Mexico.

In Poland, activities related to bird ringing are based on a network of volunteers, including the participants of the Baltic Action camps. A similar system of collecting information from colleagues will now be created in Mexico. "The potential associated with volunteering is the same as in Poland, students are eager to do the work" - Dr. Nowakowski notes.

He emphasizes that ringing is of scientific and educational importance. The protection aspect matters as well. "Systematic ringing is a great tool to study the state and changes of bird populations, and thus the condition of the environment in general. And there is something else: direct contact between people and birds is of great importance for the public to want to protect nature later. Someone who, as a young person, felt the beating heart of a 5 gram goldcrest, and then released the bird, will remain sensitive to the good of nature for all his or her life" - he says.

A scientific ringing system must have institutional support. At the beginning of 2019 in Mexico, a non-governmental organization called BIRDS.MX was established. It will animate the ringing movement in Mexico. It is based on the model used in the US (in Europe ringing is usually supervised by government agencies or public research institutions).

Polish and Mexican ornithologists` plans include collaborative research. "There are a lot of fascinating issues, we are working on a series of joint publications" - announces the scientist from the University of Gdańsk.

According to the researcher, in Mexico ringing is to be one of the important elements of a wider system of nature monitoring. "During the last trip, we had our third year of work in the Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve, covering the northernmost part of the rainforest in America. Knowledge about these species - their appearance, biology and distribution - is frighteningly small and random. Three years is not much, but systematic long-term research, for example 10-20 years, can be of great importance for the assessment of changes taking place in this forest as a result of deforestation, global climate change, etc." - he explains.

The Baltic Action, currently managed by the Bird Migration Research Station of the University of Gdańsk, is one of the longest running migrating bird ringing programs in the world. It has been functioning since 1960 and in its history it has been innovative in many respects, setting international bird ringing trends and standards.

The activities carried out in accordance with the Baltic Action schemes allow to collect data in a way that enables their subsequent scientific development and use in the research on changes in the population of individual bird species, but also changes in the morphology of entire populations or migratory behaviours of different species. "We are trying to link it to various global factors such as deforestation and climate change. This year we completed a three-year research program focused on the use of birds as indicators of the condition of the environment on a continental scale. This grant was carried out in cooperation with ornithologists from South Africa".

Research of the Baltic Action field stations is conducted every year, in spring and autumn. The effects of the Baltic Action`s operation include approx. 2 million caught birds. The Baltic Action has the world`s richest biometric database for a selected group of vertebrates. The data collected as part of the Baltic Action have been used to prepare numerous publications, reports and scientific papers.

The Baltic Action and bird ringing in general is "an old Polish export product" - Dr. Nowakowski concludes. "Mexico is not the first country where Polish researchers train local ornithologists. "Turkey has been the biggest success so far. Just in Mexico, that country did not have a bird ringing system. We trained local ornithologists, who eventually took over all the work. Now we work with them on a partnership basis. It appears that Mexico will be similar".

PAP - Science in Poland - Anna Ślązak

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