The program of flagging waders has revolutionised wader migration studies. The flag is a small coloured plastic band with a tab on the end. Unlike with banding, the bird does not have to be caught to find out in which region it has been banded.
The program started in Australia in 1990. A flagging protocol has been developed for the Flyway, which enables any country, or in some cases regions within a country, to join the scheme.
At present Australia (5 locations), New Zealand (North and South Island), Japan (3 locations), South Korea, China (Hong Kong, Yellow Sea and Shanghai) and Taiwan are colour flagging birds.
It is recognised that there is a need to coordinate all colour marking activities for migratory birds throughout the flyway. In this protocol we have attempted to deal only with colour flagging of migratory shorebirds. If the principles embodied here are accepted by all bird banding schemes and researchers, it would then be appropriate to also attempt international coordination of colour banding in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.
Information on the Colour Flagging Protocol can be found here.
An easy to use Colour Chart of the leg flag colours currently ‘in use’ can be found here.
In most cases, the colour flag(s) is placed on the right leg, and the metal band on the left leg. However the leg on which the flag(s) are located is not critical in determining the flagging origin of the bird. Some birds may also have coloured bands (rings) as well as flags for special projects. The position of these bands and which leg they are on is important. If you do not have the contact details to report a flag sighting direct to the flagging country/flagger please email sightings to Clive Minton. This will ensure that sightings will be reported to the original flagger promptly, and that no valuable records are lost. All flag observations will be acknowledged with a formal flag-sighting report.
Other people you can report flag sightings to are:
For birds from Victoria, S.E. Australia, the reporting rate from flagged birds is 17 times that of banded bands, and for N.W. Australia 5 times. Also flagged birds can be watched for anywhere, as opposed to banded birds for which most recoveries only come from a few areas where there is much hunting or banding activity. For some species and localities in the Flyway where there have been many flag sightings it is now becoming possible to find out the timings of migrations of birds from different origins (i.e. N.W. and S.E. Australia: Alaska and Siberia) through the same area, and even to make estimates of the proportions of the total populations passing through.
Up until 31 December 2002 114,501 waders have been flagged in Australia since flagging commenced in 1990 as shown in Flag totals chart. The majority of these were flagged in Victoria (55,186) and Northwest Australia (51,604). A total of 38 species of migratory waders have been flagged, the greatest variety being in Northwest Australia, surprisingly even in species where relatively few have been colour marked, there have been a significant number of distant flag sightings.
Details of how to make flags can be found in this extract of Stilt 32 (April 1998 pages 49-51).
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To ensure the future of waders and their habitats in Australia through research and conservation programs and to encourage and assist similar programs in the rest of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway and network of shorebird sites.