Sunday, 21 October 2012

Goldfinch prisonbreak?

The Goldfinches in my garden have been increasing in numbers recently and my small feeder trap has been bustling and chirrupping with activity every morning.Today was a successful day with 31 birds ringed in just an hour and perhaps most interestingly I caught a bird with colour rings. I was initially excited that I'd controlled a bird that had been ringed as part of a colour-ringing project, but there was no metal BTO ring to be found! After a phone call to Pete, it became clear to me that the bird was likely to have been an escaped cage bird. Seeing as the rings were not closed rings (used by breeders on small chicks) it also seems possible that this bird has been trapped, perhaps illegally, as a full grown bird before it made its get-away!

I could find nothing out of the ordinary in terms of strange moult and the bird seemed to be 'normal'. After taking these photographs I released it without ringing it. I'd be keen to know if anyone else has come across birds like this though?




  1. I have caught quite a few Goldfinches with colour rings like this. I have also caught them with the wrong sized close ring (too big) or a close ring that has been cut and applied like a split ring. Occasionally I have caught them with a properly applied close ring. I have to say all this has been spread over 30 odd years and probably involved around 20 birds or less in total.

    Most if not all of these birds will be wild in origin and should be treated as such. It is not uncommon for Goldfinches to be caught by bird keepers and used to ‘improve captive stock’ and then be released at the end of the season. The offspring are closed ringed as captive bred and this allows them to be legitimately sold on. There are various permutations around this but it is a way of bringing extra blood lines in as wild birds are often thought of as having better colour or vigour.

    Birds with cut close rings will also be wild birds that someone has tried to pass on or make appear as captive bred. Birds with properly applied close rings can still be wild birds too. One trick used to take birds illegally and pass them off as legitimate is to close ring wild broods and then take them into captivity at point of fledging. The real jail breakers are your Java Sparrows and the like but rarely Goldfinches.

  2. PS Looks like a nice adult female from the photos.

  3. It's not a legal requirement to close-ring captive Goldfinches (as pulli), but you'd be an idiot not to as that's your only decent protection from prosecution for having wild birds. So essentially all captive-bred legit birds will be close-rung. Anything else, like your bird, is a wild bird that has been tampered with. How common this is isn't really known - the RSPCA probably over-prosecute (it's a reverse burden offence, meaning if you're innocent you haven't got much chance of proving it), but also under-record.
    Ringing wild broods and taking them in before fledging is likely very rare - it's not going to be easy, and anyone trying is likely to lose them as the brood explodes or they miss fledging. They're also not easy to rear on from that stage.
    Taking in adults for a season is probably also not common, as wild birds reputedly take months to settle, and the risk of being caught is fairly high (RSPCA are really hammering this area).
    Rather than birdkeepers, ringed birds like this could have been trapped by wannabe ringers, who catch stuff in their garden and apply colour rings for their interest/amusement. Birds in the wild with legit closed-rings have either been ringed as wild pulli or, more likely, be captive birds that are released when no longer needed. Their value drops off substantially if they don't breed well or get a bit old, or don't have the desired features. Captive Goldfinches are pretty inexpensive, so a much-less-than-perfect specimen isn't worth keeping and is unsellable.

  4. ps, I'd have removed the colour rings and ringed it with a BTO. Circlips would have easily got them off if you didn't have the colour-ring applicator shoe.