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Brown pelicans flying near Queen Bess Island off Grand Isle, LA during BP oil spill response. Photo by Tom MacKenzie USFWS.

Scientists ask public to report banded birds to help scientific research

Houma, Louisiana - With large numbers of birds being rescued, treated, and relocated in the Gulf States as a result of the BP oil spill, people seeing banded birds are asked to report sightings. As part of this unprecedented unified response to the BP oil spill, we are asking the public to help report oiled wildlife, as well. A large percentage of captured birds are being successfully treated and released back into the wild. These birds are being fitted with leg bands that provide identifying information to assist Federal scientists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey and other organizations in studying these birds after release.

Scientific information being collected from this oil spill will expand the scope of knowledge that bird researchers and other scientists will have in the future to help ensure the health of migratory birds. Among other information, scientists will learn the extent to which released birds return to their original habitat.

Birds are released only after wildlife specialists determine they are sufficiently prepared and exhibit natural behavior including waterproofing, self-feeding, normal blood values, and are free of injuries or disease. They are released in appropriate habitats where human disturbance is minimal. While the birds are often released in the Gulf area, they are released as far as possible from areas affected by the BP oil spill. Choosing release sites is complicated; biologists want to make sure that birds are released into the same populations from which they came, but with as little risk of getting re-exposed to oil as possible.

All birds released from rehabilitation are banded for identification purposes. Ultimately, scientists use information gleaned from reports of banded birds to help answer a host of questions. Among those questions are: How long do formerly oiled birds survive? Where do the birds travel? Do immature birds select locations different than breeding-age adults? Do captured birds return to the area where they were captured? Do rehabilitated birds breed in future nesting seasons – and where?

Birds from the BP oil spill are banded with metal federal leg bands with a unique ID number. In addition, brown pelicans also receive a large color leg band. Three colors of leg bands are being used:

  • Red bands with identifying numbers and letters.
  • Pink bands with identifying numbers and letters.

People who see the birds are asked to report sightings to the National Bird Banding Lab online: Reporting the band number and the bird’s location will help biologists understand the movements and survival of the birds after their release.


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