Common Tern recovery: more details

Subject: Common Tern recovery: more details
From: "RAOU Conservation (Hugo Phillipps)" <>
Date: Mon, 10 Feb 1997 09:52:23 +1100 (EST)
This story appears to have aroused much international interest.  There were
also some misunderstandings about what occurred and what the implications
were, as well as arguments about the distance flown and whether it was a
'world record'.  For the interest of BIRDING-AUS readers, this is a copy of
a message sent to the Seabird discussion group and to ukbirdnet:

>Following many requests for further information on this item, I have
checked details with Dr Clive Minton.  The following should clarify most of

The Common Tern was banded as a chick in central Finland on 30 June 1996,
and recovered by the Victorian Wader Study Group (VWSG) on 24 January 1997
at the Gippsland Lakes in eastern Victoria, south-eastern Australia.  This
is a brackish coastal lake system with a connection to the sea.  After being
banded, leg-flagged, weighed and otherwise measured it was released in good

In order to facilitate further recognition of this particular individual, it
was banded with an Australian band in addition to the existing Finnish one.
It was also marked with an orange leg-flag on both tibia.  Each leg now
carries a leg-flag and a standard metal band.  The leg-flag is of a type
extensively used for marking terns and migratory shorebirds in the East
Asian / Australasian Flyway.  The colour code indicates that it was banded
in Victoria.  (For further details on leg-flag production and attachment
methodology refer to: Barter & Rush. 1992. The Stilt 20: 23-26).

Dr Minton considers that the bird is now too far out of its usual range to
be likely to return to western Europe, and is more likely to stay in the
company of the local Common Terns and migrate with them to their breeding
areas in northern Asia.  However, given its unique double orange leg-flags,
it should be identifiable as an individual anywhere.

There were about another 500 Common Terns, Sterna hirundo, also caught,
banded and leg-flagged orange at the same place and time.  These, plus
several thousand treated the same way over the last few years, all carry a
single orange leg-flag on the tarsus (not the tibia) as well as the metal
band.  This is part of a long-term program by the VWSG, under the auspices
of the Australian Bird & Bat Banding Scheme, to identify migration routes
and patterns of this and other tern species.

Because of uncertainties about exact routes followed by this and similar
recoveries, as well as inconsistencies in calculating very long great-circle
distances on an imperfectly sperical object, it is not very useful to be
pedantic about precise distances. The set of recoveries of Sterna spp.
moving between north-western Europe and Australasia point to probably
frequent, if accidental, journeys that have been identified through active
long-term banding programs in these areas.  They also highlight the need for
conservation of seabirds at the global level.

Regards,  Hugo.

Hugo Phillipps,
RAOU Conservation & Liaison,
Australian Bird Research Centre,
415 Riversdale Road,
Hawthorn East, VIC 3123, Australia.
Tel: +61 3 9882 2622. Fax: +61 3 9882 2677.
Email: <>
The Virtual Emu:

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