Bird Banding

Managing a complex and mobile resource requires information on breeding and wintering distribution, behavior, migratory routes, survival and reproduction. Biologists gather this information by placing uniquely numbered bands on many species of birds. These birds may be recaptured in the future by biologists, or are found dead by the general public, or in the case of waterfowl or other game birds are harvested by hunters, who then report these bands to the  National Bird Banding Laboratory, which provides information about where the bird was banded, where it was recovered, and how long it lived. This is the information that was used to develop the Flyway system that has been used for managing migratory birds since 1950.

The Division of Migratory Bird Management is involved in both the collection and analysis of banding data. Our staff coordinates with banders from various state, federal, private, and tribal agencies in ongoing, annual banding efforts. One example is the Western Canada Cooperative Waterfowl Banding Program (WCCWBP) which focuses on banding waterfowl throughout the Canadian prairies and Canadian boreal forest. Find out more about the program and read blogs from banding crews in the field.

Migratory Bird Program biologists and their counterparts in the U.S. Geological Survey have led the way in developing models that utilize banding and recovery data to predict the impacts of harvest and other 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, and are used by biologists to set annual waterfowl hunting regulations.

The value of banding data is only fully realized when banded birds are recovered and band numbers reported to the Bird Banding Laboratory. Some recoveries are recaptures (including resighting of bands through spotting scopes) of live birds that are obtained from banders or other wildlife professionals. However, the predominant number of recoveries of dead birds come from the public, either by people who have found birds that have died, or by hunters who have harvested them. More information about how and where to report the recovery of banded birds can be found on our reporting bands page. We rely heavily upon on your cooperation, and we, and the birds, thank you.

Last Updated: May 17, 2017