Flagging Protocol Information provided by the
East Asian-Australasian Flyway partnership

Flagged Great Knot: a yellow flag on the upper leg means that this bird was flagged in northwest Australia.
Photo © Yeh Chih wei

The programme of flagging waders has revolutionised wader migration studies, and probably more waders have been flagged in recent years than have ever been flagged before - and, if the destruction of wetlands continues, probably ever will be.

The programme started in Australia in 1990, and a flagging protocol has been developed for the East-Asian Australasian Flyway, which enables any country, or in some cases regions within a country, to join the scheme.

At present Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, China (Hong Kong) and Taiwan are colour flagging birds.
The Australasian Wader Studies Group has now assumed responsibility for processing all leg flag markings in Australia under agreement with, and with limited financial support from, Environment Australia which is the Environment Portfolio of the Commonwealth Government of Australia.

The "flag" is a small coloured plastic band with a tab on the end. Flags can be placed either on the upper part of the leg (the tibia), the lower (the tarsus), or both upper and lower.

Grey-tailed Tattler flagged in Victoria (AUS), seen in Taiwan, © Chung-Yu Chiang

Easily seen by an observer, it means that, unlike with banding/ringing, the bird does not have to be re-caught to find out in which region it has been banded.

For birds from Victoria, S.E. Australia, the reporting rate from flagged birds is 17 times that of banded bands, and for N.W. Australia 5 times.

Also flagged birds can be watched for anywhere, as opposed to banded birds for which most recoveries only come from a few areas where there is much hunting or banding activity. For some species and localities in the Flyway where there have been many flag sightings it is now becoming possible to find out the timings of migrations of birds from different origins (i.e. N.W. and S.E. Australia: Alaska and Siberia) through the same area, and even to make estimates of the proportions of the total populations passing through.

Terek Sandpiper flagged in Taiwan, seen in
Japan. Photo © Sayaka Sakomoto

The table below lists the the colours of the flags being placed on waterbirds by countries following the AWSG protocol: in the table, upper/lower refers to the part of the leg that the flag is placed on.

All countries starting flagging are urged to follow the protocol.

The colour scheme has been carefully worked out to ensure that all researchers throughout the Flyway benefit from the program, and do not destroy other people's research, (and their own), by not following the protocol.


(More information on Colour Flagging can be found on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway partnership website.)

North IslandSouthern IndiaNorthern Japan
Shunkunitai, Eastern Hokkaido
may be engraved(on left leg)(on left leg)may be engravedmay be engravedmay be engraved or carrying four other color bands
New ZealandIndiaJapanAustraliaAustraliaAustralia
Northern IndiaChongming IslandTokio Bay & MiyagiEast. Yellow SeaSakhalin Island
(both flags on
right tibia)
may be engraved
Tibia & Tarsus:
Obitsu (typical flag);
Yatsu Tidal Flat (angled flag)
Both Tarsus:
Miyagi pref.
(on left legs)
may be engraved
discontinuedmay use angled
flags in future
IndiaChinaJapanSingaporeSouth KoreaRussia
Chongming IslandHainan-GuangxiSumatraKamchatka
discontinuedmay use angled
flags in future
TaiwanNorthern Japan
Lake Komuke, Northern Hokkaido
JiangsuTasmaniaNorthern Territory
may be engravedmay be engraved
South IslandInner Gulf of Thailand

Angled (left leg): Thailand Peninsular (Ko Libong)
Typical (right leg): Gulf of Thailand
may be engraved

may be engraved
New ZealandThailandMongoliaSri LankaAustraliaVietnam
East. Yellow SeaJava & BaliSouthern JapanYalujiangWest PapuaSW West. Aus.

Tibia & Tarsus: Kyushu
Both Tarsus: Okinawa
may be engraved
may be engraved or carrying other color bandsmay be engraved
South KoreaIndonesiaJapanChinaIndonesiaAustralia
Hong Kong
Bohai BayGulf of Carp.SA

(proposed)typical: Tangshan
angled: Cangzhou
may be engravedmay be engraved

Other flags used on the flyway

Pale GreenPale GreenPale BluePale BluePale Blue (ring)Green (ring)
Southern ChukotkaSouthern ChukotkaNorthern ChukotkaWrangel IslandNorthern Alaska
Ikpikpuk & Prudhoe Bay
Northern Alaska
Canning River
white may be engravedmarkings can be placed on different parts of legsmarkings can be placed on different parts of legs
Orange (ring)Red (ring)Yellow (ring)Blue (ring)BlackRed
North western AlaskaNorthern Alaska
Northern Alaska
Western Alaska
South Island
may be engraved;
markings can be placed on different parts of legs
markings can be placed on different parts of legsBar-tailed Godwits
NOT engraved, may carrying four other color bands
USAUSAUSAUSANew Zealand, Australia & USANew Zealand

New Zealand Pied Oystercatchers haematopus finschi
Variable Oystercatchers Haematopus unicolor
New ZealandNew Zealand
Updated: 24 Jun 2013