What is Bird Banding?

Bird banding is a method used by scientists to study birds. Birds are safely caught by scientists and given and identification band, which is a small aluminum ring that fits around the bird's leg like a bracelet. The band is engraved with a unique number, allowing scientists to keep track of each individual bird. No other bird will have the same number!

Why Do Scientists Band Birds?

Putting a band with a unique number on a bird allows scientists to keep track of each individual bird when it's caught again. This is important for answering questions (testing hypotheses) about birds. Some of the questions bird banding allows scientists to answer include:

  • How Long Do Birds Live?
  • Where Do Birds Go?
  • What Birds are Present at a Particular Site?
  • How are Bird Population Numbers Changing Over Time?
  • How Many Baby Birds Were Born Each Year?

Other things that may be studied include territorial behavior, mate fidelity, territory size and fidelity, reproductive behavior (which bird builds the nest? Feeds the young? How often?). Answering these questions and more provides information that is useful in protecting birds and their habitats.

How Do Scientists Catch Birds? 

The birds that we work with are gently caught in soft, fine nets called mist-nets. These nets are stretched between two poles, usually hidden amongst trees and bushes. Ideally, the birds cannot see the nets so, they fly into them. Scientists carefully remove the birds from the nets so they can be banded and then released unharmed.

Who Bands Birds?

Scientists from bird observatories, government agencies, research organizations, and graduate schools band birds as part of their research programs. In order to band birds in our country, you must have a permit to do so and you must also be trained in safe banding procedures. All of the banding data that we or any other scientist in North America collects is submitted to and kept by the Bird Banding Laboratory of the US Department of the Interior in Patuxent, MD. It is available for any scientist to access. 

What Do I Do if I Find a Banded Bird?

If you find a banded bird please report it to 1-800-327-BAND or on the web at https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/BBL/bblretrv/