A programme of bird ringing by trained and BTO licensed volunteers has been carried out on Walney Island since the beginning of the observatory. Bird ringing is used to assist research into the migration patterns, population changes, biometrics and longevity of birds. Although ringing takes place at sites across the island, the majority of activities occur within the confines of South Walney Nature Reserve and a combination of five helgoland traps and a few strategically placed mist nets produce in excess of 1,000 birds per annum. To date over 50,000 birds of almost 140 species have been trapped on the island and ringed with a uniquely identifiable metal ring. Foreign recoveries include Shelduck to Germany, Jack Snipe to Spain, Long-eared Owl to Russia, Short-eared Owl to Spain, Meadow Pipit to Spain and Morocco, Robin to Spain, Redstart to Spain, Whinchat to Morocco, Blackbird to Finland, Sweden and Germany, Redwing to Russia, Willow Warbler to Gibraltar, Starling to Germany and Spotted Flycatcher to Nigeria. In addition, controls of birds ringed elsewhere and relocated on Walney Island include Barnacle Goose from Spitzbergen, Brent Goose from The Netherlands, Canada and Iceland, Spoonbill from The Netherlands, Black-tailed Godwit from Iceland, Knot from Norway, Turnstone from Canada, Black-headed Gull from Denmark, Kittiwake from France, Sedge Warbler from France, Garden Warbler from Belgium, Blackcap from The Netherlands, Willow Warbler from The Netherlands and Linnet from Spain.
This style of trap is named after the island of Helgoland, found in the North Sea off the coast of Germany, where they were originally designed and built at the beginning of the 20th century when a bird observatory first became established there. This humane method of catching birds for ringing studies comprises of a funnel of netting strung across a wooden frame, which progressively narrows down to a catching box at the end. The trap is usually sited over an area of plentiful cover that encourages birds into the area and often includes an area of open water at the mouth. Although Walney Island is the only site with operational Helgoland traps in Cumbria, a number of these permanent structures have been built at other bird observatories around Britain and Ireland. However, the advent of mist-nets - introduced into Britain from Japan in the 1950s - has much reduced the need for these traps, which are high maintenance and require constant repair and attention.
A Blackbird ringed on the island on 21st October 2005 was found dead during the breeding season at Ousang, Ljusdal, Gavleborg, SWEDEN (1440km NE) on 4th June 2012.
The Goldfinch colour-ringing project which began in 2012 produced it first continental recovery with a bird observed in a garden near Calais, FRANCE.
A Chaffinch ringed on the island on 28th October 2008 was recovered at Schoonrewoerd, Zuid-Holland, THE NETHERLANDS (603km ESE) on 18th March 2012.
A flock of 63 Barnacle Geese flock on 16th February 2013 held four colour-ringed birds including birds ringed at Ny Alesund, Svalbard on 11th August 1987 and 1st August 2005 and Caerlaverock on 3rd November 2006.
A mixed flock of Sanderling and Dunlin roosting over the tide on 4th May 2012 held the third colour-ringed Sanderling of the spring; it had originally been ringed at Sandgeroi, ICELAND on 22nd May 2011 (1240km NW). In addition a colour-ringed Dunlin had been ringed Brito Saltpans, Alcochete, Tagus Estuary, PORTUGAL on 2nd February 2009 (1800km S).
A flock of 250 Turnstone along the maritime shore held a colour-ringed bird that had initially been ringed at Weston Shore, Southampton Water, Hampshire on 21st March 2009, it was seen again at the same location on 23rd July 2011 before appearing on Walney Island on 14th April 2012. This is the first time it has been seen in the UK away from its ringing site.
The remains of a Whooper Swan found in a field at Biggar on 16th January 2012 had been ringed as a cygnet at Lake Brunnvatn, ICELAND (1440km NW) on 3rd August 2010.
A flock of 80 Sanderling on spring passage on 14th April 2012 held two colour-ringed birds that were originally ringed at Gardskagi, ICELAND on 15th May 2011 and Siglingamerki, Sandgeroi, ICELAND on 19th May 2011 (1240km NW) respectively.
A Great Black-backed Gull ringed as a chick at South Walney on 17th June 1988 was found dead at Cockerham Sands, Lancashire (25km ESE) on 15th July 2010 - 22 years and 28 days after ringing and becomes the oldest Great Black-backed Gull to be ringed by the observatory. The pattern of occurrence of recoveries for this species suggests that few venture far from their natal colony.
One of the staple species caught on the island; a couple more interesting Greenfinch recoveries have been received. A young female ringed at South Walney on 1st October 2011 was found dead at Southport, Merseyside (45km SSE) on 25th October 2011 and a male ringed at South Walney on 2nd October 2011 was controlled at Over Kellet, Carnforth, Lancashire on 22nd October 2011.
A trio of interesting Goldfinch returns have been received. A male controlled at South Walney on 25th March 2011 had previously been ringed at Rawcliffe, Lancashire (29km SE) on 10th November 2010, while young birds trapped and ringed at South Walney during autumn passage on 16th October 2010 were controlled at Baldwins Hill, East Grinstead, Surrey (397km SE) on 21st February 2011 and at Calf of Man, Isle of Man (105km W) on 28th March 2011.
A Canada Goose controlled at South Walney on 21st September 2010 had previously been ringed at Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria (40km NNE) on 27th September 2009, perhaps it had heard of the proposed cull to take place on Windermere.
On 27th November 2011 the Twite flock contained a colour-ringed individual that had previously been ringed at Machrihanish, Mull of Kintyre, Scotland during 2010. A Greenfinch ringed at South Walney during post-breeding dispersal on 9th August 2011 was controlled at Heysham, Lancashire on 17th November 2011 (19km E)
A flock of newly arrived Goldfinch on 15th April 2011 included a bird bearing a French ring – the first control of a foreign ringed Goldfinch for the observatory, although a bird ringed on the island on 18th September 2006 was recovered at Cerisy Buleux, Somme, FRANCE (564km SE) on 24th December 2008.
A colour-ringed Twite seen on 14th November 2010 had been ringed at Heysham, Lancashire during the previous autumn. The flock which this bird was associating with also held two birds ringed at Machrihanish, Mull of Kintyre, Scotland earlier in the autumn.
The colour-ringed Raven ringed as a nestling at Sandside, Cumbria during 2005, has returned to the island for its second winter