Bird Bands

For more than a century, researchers have fitted birds with ID bands. These bands include an identifying number and instructions on what to do if a banded bird is found.

People have been banding birds for centuries with the first record of a metal band attached to a bird's leg being around 1595 when one of Henry IV's banded Peregrine Falcons was lost in France. It showed up 24 hours later in Malta, about 1350 miles away, averaging 56 miles an hour!

The first records of banding in North America are those of John James Audubon, the famous American naturalist and painter.  In 1803 he tied silver cords to the legs of a brood of phoebes near Philadelphia and was able to identify two of the nestlings when they returned to the neighborhood the following year.

Bird banding data are useful in both research and management projects. Individual identification of birds makes it possible to study dispersal and migration, behavior and social structure, life-span and survival rate, reproductive success and population growth.  Every bander participates in studies of dispersal and migration by sending all their banding data in to a central site, the Bird Banding Laboratory. When banded birds are captured, released alive and reported from somewhere else we can reconstruct the movements of the individual bird. 

In this way we have learned that some species go south in one pathway and return north by another pathway. Nesting and wintering grounds have been located for some species, and specific nesting grounds have been connected to specific wintering areas. The Arctic Tern makes the longest migration flight of any living species, making an annual round trip flight of 25,000 miles. The migration routes used by this species have been determined by band recoveries in part.  All of this information helps drive management decisions, strategies and tactics in wildlife conservation efforts.

If you are lucky enough to find a banded bird, please report it — and feel good about adding to the growing body of knowledge about wildlife!

Interesting Fact: In 1952, Donnie Smith of Anahuac, Texas reported a killed lesser snow goose to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The bird had been banded on an island in Canada’s Hudson Bay, 2,500 miles north.

History of banding information provided by USGS.