Colour Ringing Project for Passer domesticus (House Sparrow)

The following project is proposed by Doctor Richard Banham, external Tutor for Leeds University. This exciting project can be a great experience for university students especially from the fields of ecology, environmental science or biology, but it can also be suitable for everyone with strong passion about birds!

The activity will involve a colour ringing with “Sylvia melanocephala” at Urra scientific Field Station near Sorbas in the province of Almeria, with the assistance of Sunseed. The project will start at the beginning of 2018 and will be incorporated into the field study course for students from the ecology department at Leeds university from March 18th till March 28th.

Dr.Banham will continue the project throughout the year with a number of visits to Urra and Sunseed. Each year the project will be incorporated into the field course, always under his supervision.

Brief description about the project

This species has been chosen because it is the commonest resident scrub warbler in the area of the field station and the birds perch quite prominently in the Spring as they are holding breeding territories. The House Sparrow is very easy to recognise as there are no other species with which it could be confused.

For most of the year, males have a grey crown and cheek area separated by chestnut brown eye
stripe. The back is brown also but heavily streaked black. The bill is stout and blackish, with a black
chin, throat and upper breast. In winter period much of the black area on upper breast and throat

Females never possess the black chin, throat and upper breast. The back colour is very much more
subdued but is still streaked black. The cheeks are still grey, there is no chestnut brown eye stripe
and she has a broad light buff supercilium. Plumage remains the same throughout the year.
Juveniles have the same plumage characteristics as females.

This species can be observed most commonly on the ground where they normally forage but can
also occur in the trees and surrounding vegetation.

Sufficient data will be collected by the participating Leeds University students to give them a viable project for the short time they have available at the field centre. With the input from Sunseed, much more valuable long-term data can be amassed.


When the birds are trapped they will be fitted with the normal metal ring on top of which will be fitted a colour ring. Each year the colour of this ring will be changed to note a new year. The other leg will be fitted with 2 colour rings, one to denote the period of ringing and the other the age of the bird. Once again each year this combination will be changed to note a new year.

In the field it will be noted at which net the birds were trapped and then studied using
binoculars or telescope to track the limit of their territories and if they remain on the site or if
they can be observed in other areas outside the breeding season.

With a continuous colour-ringing and observation program together with the trapping of
controls, it will be possible to track the birds outside of Urra field station itself as the netting is
also carried out along and beside the Rio Aguas rambla, plus at Los Molinos de Aguas.

In 2017, four water scrapes were constructed to try to attract both migrants /wintering and resident birds to drink. Mist nets were erected by these scrapes in order to trap and ring them. In 2018 each scrape will be observed by the students to see if any of these colours ringed birds come to drink and to note if this is outside their breeding or foraging territories.

During the first ringing sessions this Spring with Leeds university students, the results showed that 52% of all the birds trapped were at these 4 “water nets”.

The colour rings for this project have been ordered and will be available early February 2018. Having completed the first ringing session at Urra in February 2018, Dr.Banham will visit Sunseed to provide all the necessary details for the project.

Importance of the project

The field station is in an extremely dry area of Almeria province and a further study is being carried out to plot the change in rainfall patterns since 1997. With less and less rain in this area, the presence of permanent small water scrapes become more and more important to the survival of passage/wintering birds as a stopover site in the area, and especially so in late spring and early autumn when it can still extremely hot and dry here. It is important to continue this project for a number of years in order to track any changes in the migratory/wintering populations of these species and to observe movements outside the boundaries of the station along the wide dry rambla of the Rio Aguas both towards Sorbas and in the other direction up to Los Molinos.

A few kilometres down the river bed from Urra there is an important water source for the Rio
Aguas in the form of an aquifer which results in a large permanent pool in the village of Los
Molinos de Rio Aguas. This is a highly attractive, easy to observe site for a large number of
birds that may or may not pass through the field station due to its lack of water. With
permanent water now available at Urra as well it will be interesting to see if there are any
changes in the number of these particular local birds and to see if there is any reaction
between the 2 areas.

It will be interesting to compare the local,migratory and wintering species at both sites ,one
with 4 artificial water scrapes in an extremely dry habitat with scattered xerophytic
vegetation and the other with permanent running fresh water together with riparian and
woodland habitat.

It is quite likely with the presence of the permanent water body at Los Molinos that birds
ringed at Urra field station will also visit this site to drink. It will provide important data as to
how far these local birds are prepared to travel to obtain water. N.B The population dynamics
for House Sparrows (e.g.increase or decrease of these loal birds year on year, numbers and
proportions of males and females, and breeding success) can be followed in relation to the
variation in rainfall and the considerable increase in underground water extraction for
growing new large olive tree plantations in the area.

How can you get involved in the project?

For those interested, all that is necessary for them to do, is to note on a chart provided, the colour rings on both legs, the sex of the bird and the date of observation. Colour pictures will be provided for both species to assist identification. A pair of simple binoculars is needed to accurately note the details.

If you are interested in this project…

Get in touch with us to join Sunseed for a regular mid-term or long-term volunteering or through a funded University placement. For your involvement in the project we will put you in direct contact with Dr. Banham for further details and information.

For more information please contact us at:
For further questions you may contact Dr.Banham at:

SunseedColour Ringing Project for Passer domesticus (House Sparrow)

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