Bird banding is an important tool used to understand migration timing, flight patterns and lifespans. The information helps create conservation laws for migratory birds.
The origins of bird banding are unknown but the earliest records indicate the Roman soldiers may have been the first to do so. During times of war, birds were used to send messages. Crows, known for being incredibly intelligent, were used to convey the results of chariot races to interested parties up to 135 miles away. Later recordings of bird banding include:
- Henry IV banding his peregrine falcons where they were found 1,350 miles away in Malta
- Duke Ferdinand banding a grey heron that was reportedly 60+ years old
- Falconers in Turkey had their birds show up in Germany, 1,200 miles away
The notable, John James Audubon, for which the Audubon Society is named, is regarded as one of the pioneers of bird banding in North America. In 1803, Audubon banded nestling eastern phoebes with silver wire. He found the birds on their migration in the spring back to Pennsylvania. Another early mention of bird banding was done by Ernest Thompson Seton by marking snow buntings with printer ink in 1882.
Hans Mortensen took the systemic practice of banding a step further in 1899 by including his contact information on the attached ring so he could be notified and the physical bands could be returned to him. This concept became the foundation for how we use banding today.
It was a malacologist (one who studies mollusks) named Paul Bartsch, who is recognized as being the first scientist credited with the concept of modern bird banding. In 1902, he systematically banded more than 100 black-crowned night herons. He inscribed the bands with the message “Return to the Smithsonian Institution.”
The American Bird Banding Association was founded in 1909 by ornithologist Leon Jacob Cole of the University of Wisconsin. He wrote seven papers on bird banding and was dubbed the “father of American bird banding” in the field of ornithology.
In 1916, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was put into place to enable Britain, Canada and North America to work together to protect migratory birds, their nests and their eggs from being over harvested, trafficked or commercialized. The Act created the mandate that hunters obtain a permit to harvest migratory birds of any kind to federally manage bird populations.
Banding and Migration Studies
Understanding the migratory patterns of waterfowl allows for setting the parameters for open hunting seasons to optimize bird population growth. There are four major migration patterns called flyways — the Pacific, Central, Mississippi and Atlantic. Knowing the operation range of these four flyways enables fish and wildlife services to appropriately manage harvesting permits for hunters to maintain healthy bird populations.
Due to the long-distance flight patterns of many different migratory birds, it is important for there to be international collaboration in the protective measures being taken to preserve habitat and manage bird numbers. Programs such as the Blue-Banded Brown Pelican Program, the Red-Banded Snowy Egret Program, the White-Banded Black-Crowned Night-Heron Program and many others have an international database that allows scientists to record bird populations from all over the world.
Gather Your Own Data
You don’t have to be a scientist to report a banded bird. Every bit of information helps researchers better understand different species. Live sightings in your own backyard tend to be more exciting than retrieving banding information secondhand through software or websites online. Consider setting up an outdoor camera near a bird feeder or birdhouse to capture photos and videos of local birds automatically. Cameras like Wingscapes’ Bird Cam Pro will enable you to spot bands and automatically record the time, date and location of each sighting.
There are a number of different kind of bands used in the process of collecting data. For some birds that are harder to spot or catch, it is imperative that they have larger and more visible markers placed on their wings to be seen with a set of binoculars. Smaller birds that are easier to corral may be tagged with small leg bands made out of plastic or metal. Tags are different colors, typically with a three-digit number, and are sometimes color-coded by researchers to mark the year they were tagged.
Avid bird watchers are a valuable resource to ornithologists who take it upon themselves to report banded birds they sight. If you come across a banded bird, do your part in helping with migratory bird protection by reporting it at your earliest convenience.
This sighting information offers wildlife management help in making the decisions around harvesting permits, the establishment of bird sanctuaries, reserves and refuges, and species die off.
Bird banding’s evolution has become a valuable wildlife management tool. Moving forward, it will continue to evolve to contribute to the conservation of our migrating bird populations for generations to come.
Why Wildlife Needs to be Conserved and Protected
Wildlife is part of the God’s creation and our ecological system. Our survival on this earth depends on wildlife of all types that plays an essential role in the ecological and biological processes. The normal functioning of the our planet depends on endless interactions amongst animals, plants, and microorganisms. Wildlife maintains ecological ‘balance of nature’ and maintains food chain and nature cycles.