History of Waterfowl Banding
Bird banding (called ‘ringing’ in Europe) got its start many years ago with the Romans. Today, banding is a key tool for waterfowl research and management in North America. As a hunter, you have a great opportunity to help out this continent wide effort to better understand our game birds through the North America Banding Program by reporting your bands.
218 BC - Roman foot soldiers tie threads on swallow’s legs to mark them.
16th Century - Marco Polo reports Chinese barons mark their hunting falcons with silver tablets engraved with their owners name and province so lost birds can be returned.
1595 - Earliest record of a metal band. Henry IV’s banded peregrine falcon is lost in France and found in Malta 24 hours later. The bird flew about 1350 miles at an average of 56 miles an hour.
1669 – Duke Ferdinand bands a grey heron with a silver band. Bird is recovered 60 years later in 1728 by his grandson.
1803 – First record of banding in North America. John James Audubon (famous American naturalist and painter) ties silver cords to the legs of phoebes and identifies two of the nestlings when they return the following year.
1890 – Hans Mortensen, a Danish school teacher, puts aluminum rings on Eurasian green-winged teals, northern pintails, white storks, common starlings and several types of hawks. He inscribes the rings with his name and address in hopes the bands will be returned. His system of banding becomes the model for bird banding today.
1902 – Paul Bartsch starts the first scientific system of banding in North America. He bands more than 100 black-crowned night-herons in the District of Columbia with bands inscribed “Return to Smithsonian Institution”.
1905 – James Henry Fleming places the first numbered and recorded band in Canada on a robin in Toronto, Ontario.
1909 – Jack Miner establishes a waterfowl sanctuary in Kingsville, Ontario in 1904. Between 1909 and 1939 he bands 20,000 Canada geese as well as numerous other waterfowl. In 1909 he bands a mallard that is shot the following year in the United States. This is the first complete record of a band and recovery on the continent.
Early 1900’s – Concern over declining numbers of waterfowl, vanishing passenger pigeons and the over harvesting of egrets for their plumes results in an international agreement to manage migratory birds.
1916 - Migratory Bird Convention is signed by Canada and the United States which sets out a system to protect migratory birds as well as regulating the killing of birds in both countries. Mexico joins in 1936.
1920 – US Bureau of Biological Survey and the Canadian Wildlife Service jointly take on overseeing the Migratory Bird Convention and coordinating banding activities in North America. The Bird Banding Laboratory (USA) and the Canadian Bird Banding Office manage permits, supply bands and keep records. Data on all birds banded in North America is kept in Washington, D.C.
Why band waterfowl?
Banding data from game birds is analyzed yearly and is an essential part of determining hunting regulation development as well as for detecting changes in population sizes. Data from banding can be used to evaluate hunting pressure, estimate productivity and survival and determine how vulnerable different ages and sexes are to hunting pressure. All of these are key components to managing game birds for sustainable harvest.
Banding is also important for research to better understand waterfowl and other birds. The more we know, the better able we will be to make good management decisions. Some other information gained from band data includes: migration patterns, finding out where a bird winters and nests, behavior and social structures (using colored markers in addition to traditional aluminum bands), and determining how long a bird lives.
How the banding program works
The Bird Banding Laboratory provides banders with numbered bands in the correct size for the birds they band. For example, a mallard wears a 7A band while a blue-winged teal takes a 4A or a 5. Bands are made of ultra-light aluminum inscribed with its own individual 8 or 9 digit number and CALL 1-800-327 BAND and WRITE BIRD BAND LAUREL MD 20708 USA. Older bird bands have the legend AVISE BIRD BAND WASH DC.
When a bander puts a band on a bird’s leg they record the band number, the species of bird, its age and sex, and the place and date it was banded. Sometimes banders collect other information such as wing, tail and weight measurements, feather condition, notes on external parasites or other details needed for a specific research project. All this information is sent to the Bird Banding Laboratory where it is checked for accuracy and entered into a central database.
When a banded bird is either recovered (found dead) or recaptured the band should be reported to the Bird Banding Laboratory. The Bird Banding Laboratory retrieves their information on the bird using the band number and sends this information to the person who reported the band. Next they contact the person who banded the bird to tell them where and when the band was recovered. The band return information is also accessed by agencies when they set harvest regulations.
Who can band waterfowl?
Banding of birds is controlled by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act which requires that anyone banding birds must have a federal banding permit. Only official federal bands can legally put on waterfowl released in the wild. Other markers such as colored bands must be approved by banding officials.
Since banding information from waterfowl is used to set harvest regulations, generally only federal, state and provincial agencies are allowed to band them. However, researchers can be granted permits to band waterfowl after submitting a detailed research proposal.
Persons who want to band birds must apply to the Bird Banding Laboratory or Bird Banding Office. They have to show they are qualified to safely trap, handle and band birds. Some learn in an apprenticeship program, visiting banding groups or by taking courses in banding and handling. Advertisements for courses can be found in the Ornithological Newsletter or the North American Bird Bander.
How are waterfowl banded?
A number of different techniques are used by trained banders to capture and band waterfowl. Different strategies are used depending on why and how many ducks are being banded. For example, some researchers will trap individual hens on their nest or catch ducklings just as they hatch. Larger scale banding efforts by federal, state and provincial agencies rely on techniques like rocket netting (big nets fired out of cannons) or on large chicken-wire traps baited with grain that can lure in and hold 20 – 30 ducks.
Occasionally a hunter gets a shot at a duck or goose wearing 2 bands, just like this mallard caught visiting the Delta Marsh in Manitoba (Summer 2005 Cover of the Delta Waterfowl Magazine). A second band can either be a reward band or a special marker used by researchers.
Reward bands are inscribed with a reward amount that the person who reports the band will receive and are used by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Reward bands are green, but over time the color wears off to show the aluminum underneath. However, some researchers also have permission to use one or more different colored bands to mark individual birds for visual identification at a distance.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service started using reward bands in 1948 to encourage hunters to report the bands they recovered. The original reward bands were valued at $2.00. Today, reward bands are used for a variety of studies on band reporting rates that help agencies determine appropriate harvest levels as well as to evaluate band reporting methods.
Delta urges all hunters to report their bands, regardless of the presence of a reward band. The information gained from a reported band goes a long way towards ensuring sustainable harvest levels, which is the goal of all hunters.
How many birds have been banded?
As of 2004, approximately 60 million birds have been banded across the United States and Canada under the North American Banding Program. About 4 million of these bands have been recovered. On average, about 1.1 million birds are banded every year.
Game birds make up only 31% of birds banded, but account for 72% of band recoveries.
According to the Bird Banding Laboratory, number of game birds banded and recovered in 2001:
|Game Bird||# Banded||# Bands Recovered|
|Geese (included Brant)||
Grouse, quail, turkey and pheasant are not reported here as they are no longer banded with federal bands. Instead, each state or province uses their own bands as these birds do not fall under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
How to report a band
When you report a band you become an important part of waterfowl management and research in North America.
Reporting your band is very easy. All you need to do is phone or make an electronic submission to the Bird Banding Laboratory. You get to keep the band! You will need the following information to report your band:
- Band number
- How, when and where the bird or band was found
Toll-free phone: 1-800-327-BAND/1-800-327-2263 (US, Canada)
Electronic Submission: http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/BBL/homepage/mailrecv.htm
After you report your band, the Bird Banding Laboratory (US) or the Bird Banding Office (Canada) will send you a Certificate of Appreciation. This certificate will tell you where and when your bird was originally banded.
Worn or damaged bands
Numbers on bands can wear off over time or be struck by shot making it impossible to read. However, the Bird Banding Laboratory can use a process called etching to find out what the numbers are.
To send a band to the Bird Banding Laboratory for etching, wrap the band in cardboard or padding. Without padding, the band may cut open the envelope and be lost in the mail. Send in a small box if you don’t want the band flattened in the mail.
With the band, include: how, when, and where you found the band along with your address. Include a request for band return if you want your band sent back and the Bird Banding Laboratory will mail it back to you.
Bird Banding Laboratory
Attention: Band To Be Etched
12100 Beech Forest Lane
Laurel, MD 20708
Sources of information on bird banding in North America:
Bird Banding Laboratory
Bird Banding Office