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I found a banded bird, now what? - How to report a banded bird

Some of the Flocking Around crew bands birds as part of an effort to conserve bird populations in North America. Learn what to do when finding a bird with a banded leg!

A Summer Tanager with a banded leg
A Summer Tanager is functioning well while carrying its bird band on its left leg.

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What is a bird band?

A bird band is a type of marker that can be used to identify individual birds. A bird band functions in a similar fashion to a social security number or medical bracelet. Each band has a unique number that identifies each individual bird and allows for scientists to procure all the associated data that was recorded when the band was placed on the bird, and each time the bird was recaptured.

A series of butt-end bird bands sit side-by-side.
Typical butt-end bird bands used for most songbirds. (Not to scale)

How to report a banded bird

To report a banded bird, click the button below and follow the steps provided!

When you arrive at the USGS band reporting site, you will be walked through a series of steps:

  1. Who is reporting the band (no personal information required at this point)

  2. What band type is being reported

  3. Band number

    1. Species

    2. How you found the band

    3. Date

    4. Comments

  4. Location

  5. Contact Info

  6. Verification of Information


Why do researchers band birds?

The data produced from bird banding are useful in scientific research, conservation efforts, and land management efforts. What information can be learned from bird banding? Researchers can learn about dispersal, migration, behavior, social structure, life span, population estimates, population decline factors, survival rates, productivity, toxicology, disease, hunting pressure, and more.


Two of the greatest tools that North American bird banders have are the guides:

These guides are used to help in the aging and sexing of the majority of North American bird species.


Using bird banding to understand migration

Every bird bander provides data in the studies of dispersal and migration by sending all their banding data to the Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL) for centralized data collection. When a banded bird is captured and reported from a new location, researchers can reconstruct the movements of the individual bird. This information has provided a glimpse into the life cycles of many birds, helping bird conservationists to understand how some birds utilize different pathways for each migration season (spring and fall). Nesting and wintering grounds have also been located for some species, and specific nesting grounds have been connected to specific wintering areas. This allows conservation efforts to focus on the areas that may have the most detrimental impact on a species' population.


Using bird banding to study bird behavior

The BBL provides bird banders the permission to use additional techniques to study birds, including markers that are more visible than the metal service bands. Some bird banders use colored leg bands and leg flags to mark individual birds and study their local movements and behaviors from a distance. Individual identification of birds using colored bands allows for constant study without additional handling of the bird. Some things that may be studied include territorial behavior, mate fidelity, territory size and fidelity, and reproductive behavior. GPS trackers can also be used on some birds, and this allows for tracking birds that cover great geographical distances that cannot be easily followed and re-sighted.



Using bird banding to determine bird life spans

Bird banding allows the determination of the minimum length of time that an individual bird lives. Without an individual marker, there would be no way to determine if a bird returning to a given location is the same bird every time. A bird band acts as a name badge for researchers, allowing for the identification of the individual every time it is sighted.


Using bird banding to estimate population

Bird banding and additional bird marking is a technique that can be used to estimate the number of birds in a population. Birds are banded or marked in one period and then recaptured or re-sighted in a later period. The number of birds marked in the first period and the ratio of marked to unmarked birds in the population in the second period allows the total population of birds to be estimated.


Using bird banding to examine vital rates

Vital rates in birds are productivity, recruitment, and survival of individual bird species. Understanding these key demographic parameters can help researchers to understand which stages of the life cycle may be most affected and causing declines. Examining vital rates can enhance the effectiveness of conservation efforts so that limited conservation dollars can be directed to the times and places in the annual cycle where they are most needed.


Using bird banding data to understand toxicology and disease spread

Birds can be vectors of diseases that can affect people, such as West Nile virus. Taking blood samples from birds during bird banding for serious diseases helps determine the prevalence of the disease within the population. Using a band allows for birds that have been sampled once to be avoided in the next sample collection. Resampling the same affected individual over and over could give a false positive of disease spread.


Toxicology projects using banding assess the turnover time or how long birds use an area once they arrive in it. This allows the researcher to determine the potential exposure of birds to chemicals in contaminated areas.


Using bird banding to assess hunting pressure and harvest

In the US, biologists from BBL and the US Fish & Wildlife Service have developed models that utilize bird banding and recovery data to predict the impacts of harvest and other forms of take, as well as develop an understanding of environmental factors that drive migratory bird populations. Banding data were instrumental in the development of Adaptive Harvest Management. This management plan, in union with banding data, is used by biologists to set annual waterfowl harvest limits.

 

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Who regulates bird banding?

The Bird Banding Laboratory, a branch of the United States Geological Survey, manages the federally administered bands and bird banding program of migratory birds in the United States. Waterfowl banding is typically managed through USFWS and non-migratory game bird banding is managed by each state. Bird banders must also satisfy requirements of the USFWS and state and local regulations.


In Canada, bird banding is managed through the Canadian Bird Banding Office. However, bands are administered from the BBL as part of the North American Bird Banding Program.


What is the BBL (Bird Banding Lab)?

The Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL) is an integrated scientific program established in 1920 supporting the collection, archiving, management, and dissemination of information from banded and marked birds in North America. This information is used to monitor the status and trends of resident and migratory bird populations. Because birds are good indicators of the health of the environment, the status and trends of bird populations are critical for identifying and understanding many ecological issues and for developing effective science, management, and conservation practices.


The BBL, since 1923 and in collaboration with the Bird Banding Office (BBO) of the Canadian Wildlife Service, administers the North American Bird Banding Program (NABBP), which manages more than 77 million archived banding records and more than 5 million records of encounters. In addition, each year approximately 1 million bands are shipped from the BBL to banders in the United States and Canada, and nearly 100,000 band encounter reports are submitted into the BBL systems.


Is a permit required to band birds?

Yes, every bird bander in the US and Canada is required to be permitted to capture and/or band wild, migratory birds. Bird banding equipment suppliers will not sell equipment without the submittal of a banding permit.


Can I get trained to be a bird bander?

Many bird banders start out as volunteers. However, there are several professional bird banding training sessions offered annually. Becoming a federally permitted bird bander requires countless hours of practice, effort, and training. Additionally, the North American Banding Council encourages banders to become certified in sound and ethical bird-banding practices by participating in NABC-sponsored training. If you would like to see available bird banding training sessions, check the organizations below:


What are the oldest known wild birds? | Longevity records in birds

Currently, the oldest known wild bird is a Laysan Albatross named Wisdom, which is over 69 years old. Wisdom is still alive, and this impressive bird returns annually to its nest to help raise the next generation of Laysan Albatross.


Oldest Known Bald Eagle

A Bald Eagle in New York was recorded to be 38 years old when it was found deceased in 2015 after being struck by a motor vehicle.


Oldest Known Sandhill Crane

The oldest Sandhill Crane was banded in Wyoming in 1973 and found dead in New Mexico at over 36 years old.


Oldest Known Canada Goose

The oldest known Canada goose was banded in Ohio and harvested in Ontario at 33 years old.


Oldest Known Red-tailed Hawk

A Red-tailed Hawk that was banded in 1981 was found injured at age 30 years in Michigan. It did not survive its injuries.


Oldest Known Mourning Dove

A Mourning Dove was harvested in Florida at the age of 30 years old. This is an INCREDIBLE record for such a small species of bird not known for its longevity.


Oldest Known Common Loon

A Common Loon was photographed in 2016, still alive, at the amazing age of 29 years old!


Oldest Known Great Horned Owl

A Great Horned Owl found alive with injuries in Ohio was 28 years old at the time of capture. The bird was taken into captivity permanently due to the debilitating nature of its injuries.

 

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Oldest Known Mallard

A Mallard was harvested in Arkansas at age 27 years in 2008.


Oldest Known Trumpeter Swan

A female Trumpeter Swan was photographed and reported in 2015 in Wisconsin at 26 years old. The bird was alive at the time of the photograph.


Oldest Known Common Grackle

A Common Grackle killed by a raptor in Minnesota was over 23 years old at the time of death.


Oldest Known Northern Cardinal

The oldest Northern Cardinal is a female from Pennsylvania that was 15 years old at the time of death.


Oldest Known American Robin

The oldest American Robin was a male found dead in California at age 13 years.


Oldest Known Hummingbird

The oldest known hummingbird of all species is a female Broad-tailed Hummingbird that was at least 12 years old at the time of the last recapture.

A hummingbird band next to a penny.
A hummingbird band is so light, it weighs less than .01 g. See how it compares to a penny!

Bird Banding Ethics

Bird banding is safe for birds when the Bander's Code of Ethics and proper protocols and responsibilities are followed. All permitted banders must demonstrate an ability to safely catch and band birds before being permitted in the US or Canada.


The Bander's Code of Ethics


1. Banders are primarily responsible for the safety and welfare of the birds they study so that stress and risks of injury or death are minimized. Some basic rules:

  • handle each bird carefully, gently, quietly, with respect, and in minimum time

  • capture and process only as many birds as you can safely handle

  • close traps or nets when predators are in the area

  • do not band in inclement weather

  • frequently assess the condition of traps and nets and repair them quickly

  • properly train and supervise students

  • check nets as frequently as conditions dictate

  • check traps as often as recommended for each trap type

  • properly close all traps and nets at the end of banding

  • do not leave traps or nets set and untended

  • use the correct band size and banding pliers for each bird

  • treat any bird injuries humanely


2. Continually assess your own work to ensure that it is beyond reproach.

  • reassess methods if an injury or mortality occurs

  • ask for and accept constructive criticism from other banders


3. Offer honest and constructive assessment of the work of others to help maintain the highest standards possible.

  • publish innovations in banding, capture, and handling techniques

  • educate prospective banders and trainers

  • report any mishandling of birds to the bander

  • if no improvement occurs, file a report with the Banding Office


4. Ensure that your data are accurate and complete, are submitted in a timely fashion to the responsible agency or organization, and are appropriately used to advance valid scientific purposes.

5. Obtain prior permission to band on private property and on public lands where authorization is required.


The bander's primary responsibility should always be the health and welfare of the birds and to minimize the amount of stress placed upon them. Their banding activities should be beyond reproach and they should routinely assess their methods to ensure that handling times and data collection does not prejudice the bird's welfare. Every possible effort should be made to streamline their banding procedures. When necessary to reduce backlogs of unprocessed birds, they should be released unbanded and trapping devices closed if the bird’s safety is believed to be in jeopardy. Every injury or mortality should result in a reassessment of the banding operation, identifying and implementing required actions to eliminate the chance of repetition.

Banders are encouraged to assist others in achieving the highest possible standards and must be prepared to accept advice and adopt innovative techniques that will allow them to follow accepted safe banding practices. They should advise the Banding Offices whenever problems are encountered that seriously affect the well-being of banded birds. If important innovations are discovered that will advance the safe handling of birds during the banding process, banders are strongly encouraged to report these discoveries through the literature and other venues.


Other responsibilities of banders include maintaining complete and accurate records of their banding data and band inventories, the prompt submission of their data to the Banding Offices, and promptly replying to requests for information. Banders working on private property or public lands are obliged to obtain permission from the landowners or required permits from governmental agencies prior to initiating their banding activities. Before beginning their studies, banders should be certain that their proposed techniques are appropriate to answer the questions of interest and assess whether temporary markers such as a drop of dye or timed feathers may serve the same purpose as a metal band while reducing the stress on the birds. Banders should mark the minimum number of birds necessary to provide an adequate sample size for their projects in order to minimize the impact of banding and marking on bird populations.

 

There you have it. A lot of it. Now just imagine a generic wrap-up to this windbag article. I just saved you ninety more seconds. You're welcome.

 

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