Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory

About Bird Banding

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The Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory has just ended its third bird banding season. Bird banding is a Citizen Science effort in which birds, usually migratory species, are fitted with lightweight aluminum “bracelets,” each with an individual number.

Here’s a bird’s-eye view of what happens. A flight through the woods ends when the bird hits an almost invisible, black nylon net called a mist net. It typically falls down into a pocket at the bottom of the section of net that it hits. Banders schedule frequent “net runs” so that a bird’s wait in the net is short. Carefully freed from the net, the bird is confined in a soft, snug cloth bag and carried to the banding table. There, it is quickly identified, weighed, and measured, and the banders try to decide its age and sex (by its plumage), its general health (by its fat deposits), and whether it has bred or will breed soon (females have a bare spot on their belly called a brood patch, where warm skin contacts the eggs directly). The information is recorded along with the band’s unique number and the bird is banded and released.

Rigorous Federal licensing ensures that banders know their job and that the birds are handled correctly.

What do we learn from the birds? Banding tells us about where birds migrate to and from, how far they wander from the area where they hatch (some are recaptured at the same banding station year after year), life spans, survival rates, and populations.

Did you know:That the first time a metal ring was attached to a bird was in 1595, and that in 1669, a Gray Heron was banded in England that lived for 60 years after being banded? Modern banding started in the US in 1902.That in the early days of banding, Japanese women sold their long, black hair to be woven into mist nets?That only about 10% of banded songbirds and 30 - 40% of waterfowl are ever recovered?That some birds are also marked with color bands around the neck (swans and geese) or leg?That Cardinals and grosbeaks grab unerringly for the cuticle and the webbing between the fingers of the hand that frees them from the net, and that Black-capped Chickadees spend their “down-time” grabbing massive ”fistfuls” of net.

If you find a banded bird, living or dead (other than a pigeon), you can copy the band’s number and send it to the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Bird Banding Laboratory; eventually, you’ll receive information about the bird’s species, where and when it was banded, and its age, if known. https://www.fws.gov/birds/surveys-and-data/bird-banding/reporting-banded-birds.php