Colour Ringing Project for Sylvia Melanocephala (Sardinian Warbler)

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 18thtill 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. This warbler is very easy to recognise as there are no other species with which it could be confused.

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 each birds territory and to follow its foraging distance if outside the
breeding territory. With a continuous colour ringing and observation program together with the
trapping of controls, it will be possible to estimate the year on year survival rate of each sex of this

It will be possible to track the birds outside of the Urra field station itself as netting is also carried on
along and beside the Rio Aguas rambla.

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 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 in the past has attracted a large number of birds some of which do not appear at the field station. With permanent water now available at Urra it will be interesting to see if there are any changes in the number of local Sardinian warblers.

It is quite likely with the presence of the permanent water body at Los Molinos that birds ringed at Urra field station will visit this site also to drink. It will provide interesting data as to how far local birds are prepared to travel to obtain water.

If the birds are found at Los Molinos other than at the water body it again should be noted their movements e.g.feeding. This species is mainly insectivorous but at certain times of the year supplement the diet with pollen/nectar from suitable flowering plants.This can be shown by the presence of yellow or orange on the chin/throat area which should again be very useful to note.

There are local breeding populations of Sardinian warblers at and around both sites, so observations at Los Molinos will indicate if there is an exchange of birds between the 2 areas with permanent water. With the permanent water now available also at Urra it will be interesting to see if there are any increases in the population of local birds.

N.B The population dynamics for Sardinian warblers (e.g.increase or decrease of population totals year on year,numbers of breeding males and females, numbers of juveniles,yearly survival rates) can be followed in relation to the variation in rainfall and the considerable increase in underground water extraction for growing 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 Sylvia Melanocephala (Sardinian Warbler)

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