Bird banding, or “ringing,” as it is largely known outside of North America, has been in use for over 100 years. An immense amount of information has been, and continues to be, accumulated via use of the archaic serially numbered metal leg ring, or bird band, and it is a major undertaking to summarize decades of ringing and subsequent encounter data in a useful form. As the encounter biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey Bird Banding Laboratory, I admittedly have particular interest in this book for drawing comparisons between the Finnish and North American banding programs, and I admire any banding scheme that completes the task of compiling data in a written form.
The book presents information in both Finnish and English, which it has done very well by having the content in each language on almost each page of the book. I do not read Finnish, so my review is only of the English content. The species accounts include just a summary in English, which may lessen the usefulness of the text for some readers. Captions for figures and photos are in both languages, and in this regard, the book is very well organized and easy to follow.
There are major sections of the book, rather than chapters, that touch on primary issues related to bird ringing, followed by individual species accounts in taxonomic order from Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) to Long-tailed Skua (Stercorarius longicaudus). The species accounts cover 125 species in detail, with very short accounts for 25 additional species for which ringing and encounter data are few.
The first section highlights why birds are ringed, covering many of the same topics and concerns that are addressed through bird banding in North America, so bird ringers and those very familiar with bird ringing, the target audience, will likely skim this section. The second section explores the relationships of ringing schemes across Europe, including a history of the development of bird ringing on that continent. The contributions of H. C. C. Mortensen as the recognized inventor of modern bird ringing are briefly described, including interesting details about how he created the first uniquely identified bird rings and thus invented a new field of ornithology. There is some minor discussion of the significance of EURING for coordinating and supporting bird ringing across Europe and the usefulness of standardizing data fields for ringing and encounter data across all schemes. This section is brief, given the magnitude of EURING, but more information could easily be located elsewhere.
The third section of the book provides a history of bird ringing in Finland, where it began as an organized activity near the same time as in many other countries, 1913. This section covers the many challenges every ringing scheme has faced over the decades in detail, highlighting advances in technology and the implications of changing technologies for the scheme. The authors explain the modern philosophical shift to, and enforcement of, using ringing solely for purposes of articulated research and conservation, versus the formerly accepted practice of ringing with no real scientific goals. Broad patterns are highlighted that have been observed over the decades for ringing and subsequent encounters. A subsection is dedicated to the increased use of fieldreadable auxiliary markers and a massive increase in subsequent resighting reports by the public. The most interesting portion of this section is toward the end, where encounters from foreign countries are summarized and conservation concerns across the globe are revealed. There are many photos and graphs throughout this section, illustrating the process and summarizing ringing and encounter data.
The authors dedicate the fourth section to the variety of marking methods other than the traditional bird ring. This is an exploding topic in the world of bird marking, and this section covers many of the methods and includes some remarkable figures that show results of different marking technologies.
Appropriately, the bulk of the text is dedicated to the individual species accounts, summarizing ringing and encounter data in a variety of innovative ways. The most recent data included are from 2007, so newer data have already been accumulating for six years. The species accounts are introduced with a thorough explanation of how to interpret the individual accounts, which include many maps, figures, charts, and standard statistics for each species. The symbols and colors used on the maps for each species take a bit of detailed reading and flipping back and forth to understand. Included in each account are annual ringing totals, ringing by age class, how and where birds were reencountered, ages of birds at reencounter, longevity records, and birds that migrated the longest or were reencountered the greatest distance away in the cardinal directions. Most readers will be able to access what they want to know about a species, on a broad scale, but the maps of all encounters for a species do not show where the individual birds were ringed. Data-hungry readers may want to know more about the individual records that are cause for the more interesting figures.
English readers should be prepared to miss out on some interpretation of the data or a thorough analysis of how the data were used, but the most important points were likely translated. Although this is not an identification guide, the species drawings could have been more scientifically accurate to assist readers who are not familiar with European species.
The book concludes with six pages of references, some interesting photographs, and two appendices. The first appendix includes the number of birds ringed and encountered for each species during 1913–2011, and the second includes totals of birds ringed in Finland but encountered in foreign countries, with some statistics on how the birds were encountered (found dead, killed, or found alive).
The text is thorough, remarkably well done, and accomplishes the goal outlined by the authors in the introduction. Additional volumes are anticipated that will cover the remaining Finnish species. This book would be an asset to any ornithologist's or bird bander's book shelf or any research library. Given the rapid availability of data through modern technology, banding atlases such as these quickly become out of date by many modern readers' standards. An accompanying online version of any ringing atlas could provide authors and readers with regular updates and a variety of online tools for exploring ringing and encounter data that are not possible in a printed version. The authors have already accomplished the most difficult task toward an online process, summarizing the Finnish ringing scheme's database in meaningful ways.