Crawford Prep learners witness owl ringing

Crawford Preparatory learners gained the opportunity to learn from experts how and why owls wear rings.

The learners of Crawford International Sandton Preparatory in Benmore had an opportunity on May 22 to experience the process of ringing owls.

“It’s an exciting programme that we’ve run for about 10 years in association with EcoSolutions South Africa,” said educator Nina Bloom. “Children aren’t really exposed to wildlife, or to actually learn in the outdoor classroom. Today’s about ringing them so that we can identify them in the wild, and see how far of a terrain they traverse.

“My Grade 7 learners at the back have actually gone into junior classes, and taught them about owls,” Bloom continued. “It’s a transdisciplinary system that we do here. It’s the most wonderful way to teach hands-on.”

Environmental consultant Sara Orchardson, from the Ecosolutions Urban Ecology Owl Group shared her expert input on how come it is important for information gathering, and conservation, to ring birds.

“A lot of people don’t even know that ringing even exists. This process is a great way for the public to become involved, and to see wildlife up close,” Orchardson explained. “We found that ringing owls is very important, especially in our line of work – where we deal with releases.”

Sara Orchardson explains to Crawford Preparatory learners how owls are wild animals, and natural predators for rats and mice.

Orchardson explained that the ring carries a unique ring number and these help with identifying owls once they’ve been released into the wild. The ring has a unique number with information like: the date of when it was ringed, whom it was ringed by, the age of the bird – its weight if it’s an adult – and the location of where it was ringed.

“If that owl is ever picked up again, you’ll get valuable information which is vital for understanding population dynamics – and, maybe, even impacts of environmental changes,” said Orchardson. “We can see the distance the owl fledged from the point of ringing to the point where it’s picked up, and you can see how far-travelled in a certain time frame as well.”

Professional bird-ringer Arjen Van Zwieten unpacked the technical aspect of actually placing rings on birds.

“The rings that we put on are a very light metal, and they fit snuggly on the bird’s foot: just tight enough so that it doesn’t slip off, but not so tight that it restricts movement or blood flow,” Van Zwieten said. “They’re not transmitters, no. It’s like a nametag. If it gets caught again, then we gain an extra data point.”

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