Recovered from the bellies of fish, hands of prisoners and the claws of family cats

Spent last weekend with a bunch of ornithologists trying to catch a white bellied bustard.

This is not a particularly rare bird, but it does seem to have an inkling of what those pesky humans are up too with their mist nets and decoys.

Setting up the nets and in the foreground photographer Chris Collingridge snaps a couple of pics of the decoy bird, that the male white bellied bustard was suppose to go all gagga over.

You see only once before has a white bellied bustard, a ground bird, been caught and ringed.

And did we try to get number two, out in the grasslands that surround Newcastle in Kwazulu Natal. The birders did get close, at one stage a male bustard got within 15 metres of the net, then realised something was wrong and skedaddled.

No bustard was caught that weekend, but what was interesting were the bird ringing stories told around the nets.

Those tales of where rings were recovered, where birds had ended up and the value people have held in these little bands of steel.

English: White-bellied Bustard (Eupodotis sene...

This is what the beast looks like, the white bellied bustard


Dr Craig Symes, an ornithologist at Wits university told me the story of how a Russian prisoner had found a dead Barn swallow in the yard of a gulag. The swallow had a ring around its leg and the prisoner retrieved it and held on to it for 20 years. After he was released from prison, he tracked down the person who had ringed the bird and returned the ring.

On the South African bird ringing unit website there are other stories and facts.

The most often sighted ringed bird in South Africa is an African penguin. This bird must have stood out from the crowd or perhaps approached those humans with binos clued to their faces because he thought they had snacks on them.

The penguin was recorded 78 times, between 1994 and 2003.

The most common recorded cause of death of recovered ringed birds, shootings. Next on the list is that old bird killer the family cat.

There are odder predators that claim ringed birds.

A ring from a Cape Gannet was recovered from the stomach of a 22kg croacker off the coast of Angola.

And how about this bizarre story, also told on the ringing website.

A Barberspan coot, was ringed in what is now in the North West Province, it then flew to Kwazulu Natal where it was eaten by a crocodile. The crocodile for some reason decided it was time to move to a new address and in the process was run over by tractor in a sugar cane field.

The weight of the tractor’s tyre split open the crocodile’s stomach revealing the coot. The farmer found the bird and duly reported it.

About Shaun Smillie

Journalist, with a love of bones, fossils and other things dug up. Fisherman and occasional beer maker.
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