United for Wigeon: Update from Project Penelope 20th May 2022

Launched last year, Project Penelope is an international collaborative three-year project led by the Waterfowlers’ Network. The project links hunters and scientists aiming to improve our knowledge of one of Europe’s most popular quarry ducks – the Eurasian Wigeon.

By Heather Warrender, BASC
Photo/graphic by Antti Piironen & Sari Holopainen

The project team is using a range of techniques, including colour-ringing and GPS-tracking to learn more about the annual migration, site fidelity and survival of Eurasian Wigeon. The Wildlife Habitat Charitable Trust, The Danish Hunters' Fund for Nature and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Finland are funding the project.

Our role in Wigeon research

The UK contribution to this project involves catching and ringing large numbers of Wigeon with coded colour rings, carried out by trained and licenced volunteers. The leg rings have engraved codes to identify individual birds in the field without the need to recapture them, which enables us to track their movements, behaviour and survival based on re-sightings in the field.

Our collaborators in Denmark and Finland are also using these colour rings and have been fitting some of the birds with GPS trackers to enable remote tracking of their movements and survival.

A positive start regardless of the challenges

Our first year was not without its bumps in the road for the UK; flooding, Covid-19 and the effects of Avian Influenza caused problems up and down the UK. This sadly meant that some catches could not go ahead as catch sites sat within restriction zones.

Despite these issues, we have had tremendous success, colour-ringing 695 Wigeon, as well as 188 recaptured birds and 24 previously ringed birds that had colour-rings added. These birds generated 37 sightings recorded across the country, with many more hopefully to come! 

The Finnish team have now deployed 57 GPS-trackers in total. 42 were deployed last year and 15 have been deployed so far this year with a further 15 to go out. The migratory route of one of the birds caught last year can be seen below, having completed a full migration earlier this month!

How you can get involved

A hugely important part of Project Penelope and any other ringing project comes from the data generated by people resighting these birds, without these we would collect very little data. For this project we have so far used blue leg rings with two yellow characters and green leg rings with two white characters, some of these will have the characters separated by a vertical bar which is very important to note, the combinations are detailed here.

Should you sight, photograph, shoot or in any other way encounter one or more ringed individuals, we would very much appreciate hearing from you. You can submit your sightings to us in a number of different ways. The best way is through Project Penelope’s reporting site here. Alternatively, you can submit them through your national reporting scheme or by emailing heather.warrender@basc.org.uk. It is important to ensure the ring is read up the leg, taking note of the characters and the ring colour. Also, please make a note of the circumstances of your encounter (seen, photographed, shot, etc.), your precise location (including latitude and longitude if possible), the flock size observed, the date and the time.

To find out more about the project, click here.

This three-year project will continue to provide data for years to come. It will bring new insights into the movement of Wigeon not just within the UK, but across their entire migratory range. It will be extremely exciting to see where our Wigeon end up over the coming months. Remember to keep your eyes peeled for green or blue legs rings!