Nasal saddles on ducks


We have been nasal saddling ducks since 1993 to study movements and migration, survival rates and fidelity rates to winter grounds, and other details of duck bio-ecology. We started with Anas platyrhynchos (see total captures and resights), during 1998 also with Anas penelope, A. strepera, A. acuta and A. clypeata. On 1999 we started with A. crecca and A. querquedula. During the winter 2002/2003 we marked Anas carolinensis and Aythya fuligula.  We already also marked Aythya affinis, Aythya collaris, Aythya ferina, Aythya marila and Netta rufina. On 2016 we also nasal saddled a Cygnus olor (not a duck but also an Anseriforme...). Our resightings and also some thousands  recaptures of marked ducks did not show any apparent problems for the birds in terms of survival, pairing success or behaviour. There is a natural initial discomfort (also with metal ring…), but most ducks have a normal behaviour after few minutes. We have many resightings of migrant ducks returning to the capture place in latter years and we recaptured ducks marked more then 5 years before and they all were fine! On early 2007 was published a scientific paper studying the possible effects of nasal saddles on ducks (none...) - click here for the reference. The 2008 reference show the importance of learning how to correctly apply saddles.
We control marked ducks with the help of telescopes,
 since with binoculars we only can read codes of birds at very close distances. Nasal saddling is the most efficient safe marking process on ducks, but there is a limitation of the distance you have to reach the marked duck to read alpha-numerical codes (+-350 m with a 30x-90x telescope, for mallard size codes). As you can see in the photos, the code can be repeated in both sides and in the front, allowing the reading of codes in all of those sides. We use series with 1 or 2 letters and/or numbers number (and also +, - and =, see photos). On Mallard, Shoveler, Pintail and Wigeon with white colour, we started to use different combinations of codes: – lateral codes are equal but different from the front code. Like this we increase the total number of combinations for the same colour (see photos). During the winter 2005/6 we started to use the same with Teal on white, introducing the LASER printed codes, although we still apply a layer of ink with a pen to increase readability. The more recent printing process also allowed us to use more symbols (see photos - Mallard codes after the crecca and querquedula photos. Wigeon LASER codes and photos (only male has LASER print) are after the Mallard. On Gadwall we used codes similar to Wigeon or codes with 2 digits - in this case, repeated in all sides. After 2009 shovelers were marked with one digit repeated laterally but different in front, like in wigeons), and tufted ducks start to receive LASER printed saddles during 2011, using the H series. As we used all code combinations on teal, with 2 and 3 digits, at the end of 2016 we started to use 4 digit saddles, with one digit equal on both lateral side and 2 digits in the middle/front (see new teal codes).


Colours we use are:
Anas platyrhynchos – white and light blue (old saddles also on red and yellow);
Anas crecca – white and light blue
(old saddles also on red and yellow (only one letter), see Note below);
Anas carolinensis – white
(old saddles also on red);
Anas querquedula – white and light blue
(old saddles also on red);
Anas penelope – white
(old saddles also on red and light blue);
Anas strepera – white
(old saddles also on red and light blue);
Anas acuta – white
(old saddles also on red and light blue);
Anas clypeata – white
(old saddles also on red and light blue);

Aythya affinis – red;
Aythya collaris – red;
Aythya ferina - red;

Aythya fuligula – red;

 Aythya marila – red;

Netta rufinawhite;

Cygnus olor white.

Note: - some colours can be difficult to split on not so good light conditions or if saddles are a bit diry. On most situations there will be no problem since there aren't similar colours on the same species. On teal there can be some mistakes between yellow/white and light green/light blue. The yellow and light green are Teals marked in France (see bellow) and can be easily split from the white and light blue
(marked in Iberia), through the codes used: - in France the codes have 2 digits equal laterally and only 1 digit in front (older saddles can have 1 digit equal laterally but without code in front).  In Iberia, teal saddles can have 1 or 2 digits equal in all sides, except in white where are used also 1 digit equal laterally and 1 different digit in front (in case of French teals, 1 digit saddles don't have front code) or, in white and light blue, with one digit laterally (equal in both sides), and 2 digits in the front/middle - see new teal codes.

I will be very grateful if you send me information about resightings of our ducks. Please indicate code and colour of the saddle, sex of the bird, the date and hour, place (with coordinates in Lat Long) and country of resighting. For those with Smart Phone I recommend the use of the birdring apps since it helps finding the right coordinates of the resighting place on 2 standard formats and receiving all other information needed - it helps you also managing your resight information.

Other project using nasal saddles on ducks in Europe can be found at:

Other projects of marked ducks and other bird species on Europe can be found at:

And their photos at:


Scientific studies about nasal saddles on ducks:

2001. Rodrigues, D.J.C., Fabião, A.M.D. & Figueiredo, M.E.M.A. The use of nasal markers for monitoring Mallard populations. Pages 316-318 in R. Field, R.J. Waren, H. Okarma, and P.R. Sievert (eds.). Wildlife, land, and people: priorities for the 21st century. Proceedings of the Second International Wildlife Management Congress. The Wildlife Society, Bethesda, Maryland, USA. (copies can be obtained through me)

2007. Guillemain, M., Poisbleau, M., Denonfoux, L., Lepley, M., Moreau, C., Massez, G., Leray, G., Caizergues, A., Arzel, C., Rodrigues, D. & Fritz, H. Multiple tests of the effect of nasal saddles on dabbling ducks: combining field and aviary approaches. Bird Study 54: 35-45 (copies can be asked to

2008. Guillemain, M., Lepley, M., Massez, G., Caizergues, A., Rodrigues, D. & Figueiredo, M. Addendum: Teal (Anas crecca) nasal saddle loss in the Camargue, France. Bird Study 55: 135-138 (copies can be asked to


Scientific paper showing nasal saddles efficiency on ducks:

2006. Rodrigues, D., Figueiredo, M., Fabião, A. & Tenreiro, P. Ten Years of Waterfowl Marking in Portugal. Main Results and Future Perspectives. Pages 474-475 in G.C. Boere, C.A. Galbraith & D.A. Stroud (eds.). Waterbirds Around the Word. The Stationery Office, Edinburgh, UK.

Last updated in
David Rodrigues (PhD)
Coordinator for duck nasal marking in Europe, from DSG (WI/IUCN)

Departamento Florestal
Escola Superior Agrária de Coimbra
3040-316 COIMBRA
PORTUGAL (If you have problems with this e-mail account please send e-mail to dj )
Phone: (351) 239 802 285
Fax: (351) 239 802 289; 239 802 979



Bellow are the more recent code version used in teal nasal saddles, on white and light blue.


Bellow are hand written codes of nasal saddles used before the LASER print ones: 


The following video shows how nasal saddles are applied: