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home : columns : columns April 28, 2016

5/7/2013 1:04:00 PM
Reporting a banded bird
A neck-collared trumpeter swan from Summer Lake. photo by Mary Webster
+ click to enlarge
A neck-collared trumpeter swan from Summer Lake. photo by Mary Webster

By Jim Anderson

So there you are, birding on Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, or Summer Lake Wildlife Management Area in summer, or hunting during the season in winter - and you see a swan with a large colored and numbered neck-collar. Or you shoot a duck or goose and it is wearing a neck-collar, or has a band on its leg.

Then what?

You can join the growing number "citizen scientists," who contribute their unexpected finds to the proper organizations, and discover the snow geese you harvested flew here from Russia.

Bird banding has been going on since 218 BC when Roman foot soldiers tied threads on swallow's legs to mark them. In the 16th century, Marco Polo reported that Chinese barons marked their hunting falcons with silver tablets engraved with the owner's name and province so lost birds could be returned.

The earliest record of a metal band was in AD 595 when Henry IV's banded peregrine falcon was lost in France and found in Malta 24 hours later. The bird flew about 1,350 miles at an average of 56 miles per hour.

In 1669, Duke Ferdinand banded a grey heron with a silver band that was recovered 60 years later by his grandson.

The first record of banding in North America was in 1803, when John James Audubon, the famous American naturalist and painter, tied silver cords to the legs of phoebes and identified two nestlings when they returned the following year.

Early in the 1900s, concern over declining numbers of waterfowl, vanishing passenger pigeons, and the over-harvesting of egrets for their plumes resulted in an international agreement to manage migratory birds.

In 1902, Paul Bartsch started the first scientific system of banding birds in North America. He banded more than 100 black-crowned night herons in the District of Columbia with bands inscribed "Return to Smithsonian Institution."

Between 1909 and 1936, over 20,000 Canada geese as well as numerous other waterfowl, were in the first complete record of a band and recovery on the continent.

If you have had contact with a marked bird, or know of anyone who has had such a discovery, all you need to do is go online and contact the Bird Banding Laboratory:

Through my banding of raptors I know that a very common red-tailed hawk I banded in the Fort Rock Valley while conducting educational programs with OMSI students lived to the ripe old age of 21 years - and probably would have lived longer if it hadn't been shot in Idaho.

No matter why you're out in the field enjoying birds, this statement from Mary Webster, who took the photo at right, may help to understand why it's important you become one of those treasured "citizen scientists":

"I started birding in 1989, and of course I had heard of scientists banding birds for research, but I don't remember actually seeing banded birds until around 2005. The most obvious ones were the banded swans at Summer Lake because they had huge bands on their necks. I felt sorry for the swans because they didn't seem truly wild and free to me. I imagined their discomfort, besides the fact that the band ruined my photographs.

"A couple years ago, I emailed some photos of banded swans to Jim Anderson, and he wrote back that I should send the photos to the bird banding laboratory so researchers could get information as to the date, survival, travel patterns, etc. of the birds.

"His statement, 'You will make some researchers very happy' struck a chord. For some reason, I hadn't thought of this, and emailed the photographs to the banding lab, and was surprised when, a few weeks later, I got a certificate of appreciation on each bird, giving information about the birth, banding date, sex, etc., of each bird, and thanking me for the tag numbers.

"That information was quite interesting, and after that, I looked for banded birds when I was out and tried to take photographs of the bird and tag to send to the scientists. I have received nine certificates since, and always find them fun to read.

"Only a fraction of the bands or band numbers are ever turned in. Being conscious of this need has changed my perspective, and I will always report bands now if I come across them."

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