Wicken Fen Bird Ringers 50th Anniversary

Wicken Fen Bird Ringers celebrate their 50th anniversary this April. During this time over 125,000 birds have been ringed, and a unique insight has been gained into the fortunes of Wicken's various bird species.

The first bird ringed was a Sedge Warbler at 4pm on 27 April 1968. 

Since then over 125,000 birds have been ringed – across 106 different bird species - giving a valuable insight into the life of the various bird species which make their temporary, or permanent home, at the reserve. 

A cuckoo ringed and then recaptured almost seven years later at Wicken Fen is the oldest cuckoo on record in Britain. The furthest recorded bird was a swallow in South Africa, 9,664km from Wicken Fen. Other distant recoveries include a starling in Russia, a marsh harrier in Mauretania and a turtle dove in Mali. 

Wicken Fen - Cuckoo in flight
Wicken Fen - Cuckoo in flight
Wicken Fen - Cuckoo in flight

Figures reveal notable increases in the population of sparrow hawk, collared dove, green woodpecker, great spotted woodpecker, blackcap, chiffchaff, chaffinch, goldfinch and long-tailed tit. 

The study also reveals a dramatic decline in a number of species including the tree sparrow, song thrush, grasshopper warbler, spotted flycatcher, willow tit, linnet, lesser redpoll and lesser spotted woodpecker. The decline of these birds reflects their reduction in populations across Britain in the past few decades.

Bird ringing takes a lot of dedication as early morning pre-dawn starts are the norm to prepare the nets. Dr Chris Thorne, the club’s Secretary, was one of the inaugural members 50 years ago.

Wicken Fen - Male Marsh Harrior
Wicken Fen - Male Marsh Harrior
Wicken Fen - Male Marsh Harrior

Around 170 netting sessions are held each year. Netting is undertaken at three sites within Wicken Fen using fine mesh nets which are designed to “pocket” the birds gently without injury. The birds have a small lightweight ring put around one leg, which has a unique identification number. When the bird is caught again, either at Wicken or elsewhere, you can learn about the bird’s age, condition and dispersal.

Visitors watch a bird being ringed
Wicken Fen - Bird Ringers and Child
Visitors watch a bird being ringed

The rarest birds ringed have been a Great Reed Warbler in 1971 and a Barred Warbler in 1979, the only occasions these species have ever been recorded at Wicken Fen.

The total number of species ringed at Wicken is 106.