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When John James Audubon was a young man he wondered whether
any of the birds that went away in fall were the same ones that
came back in spring.
In 1803 near his home in Philadelphia, he found several nests of
phoebes and before the young birds were ready to fly, he fastened
a silver wire about one leg of each bird.
Going back to the same spot the following year, he found phoebes
nesting once again, two of them had a silver wire fastened about
That was how bird banding got it's start in North America. Now,
more than 600,000 wild birds are banded each year. The United
States Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife
Service co-operate in issuing standardized bands for all of North
About Bird Banding
Most of the bands are made of aluminum. They come in 14 different
sizes to fit a wide variety of birds. Each band is stamped with a
serial number for identification.
Bird banding is also referred to as ringing.
Bands are given to licensed bird banders. A report of every
banded bird is kept by the wildlife services: serial number, date, kind
of bird, gender, and weight of the bird are recorded.
Of all banded birds, fewer than one tenth are ever recovered,
and most of these are dead. Still, the banding of birds has
provided more facts about bird migration than any other technique.
The federal Bird Banding Lab (BBL) issues a limited number of
banding permits to institutions and individuals-mostly
professional ornithologists, graduate students, or wildlife biologists.
To join the folks who band migratory birds, you must have a
federal license. In addition, you must have a provincial license for some
birds, like raptors. To become a bander, you must apprentice with
a licensed bander. After demonstrating reliability as a handler
and identifier of birds, you can qualify for a permit.
According to BBL biologist Danny Bystrak, between 1.1 and 1.2
million new birds are handled each year by American banders.
About 70% of these are nongame species (including 4-5% hawks),
with the remainder being ducks, geese, and other gamebirds.
Of all these, only about 50,000 are reported each year-down
significantly from 100,000 annual reports a decade or so ago.
Purpose of Banding Birds
* To determine movements of birds (migration routes or movements
due to weather or food supply)
* To identify areas (breeding grounds, non-breeding areas
and regular passage sites)
* To determine life expectancy of individuals within a species and
also specific causes of death
* To determine which sub-species is present in an area
* To obtain information on the annual life cycle, including
* To determine population breeding success from juvenile and
Success of the bird banding program depends upon folks who find
banded birds reporting their findings
What to do if you find a banded bird.
The place to report all birds with bands or tags is the Bird
Banding Laboratory at Patuxent Wildlife Center. Check their website
for information on bird banding and to electronically submit your
Or call them at 1-800-327-BAND. They will take the report and
pass it on to the bander. They will send you a certificate of
appreciation and information on the bird after you send the band
High Tech Bird Banding
Scientists now attach minute radio transmitters to the feathers
large migratory birds. These are then tracked by satellites. The
transmitters are so designed to drop off when the bird molts.