By Jeff L. Makemson, Wildlife Biologist, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries
A system for banding birds really developed in 1899, when Hans Mortensen, a Danish schoolteacher, began placing aluminum rings on the legs of European teals, pintails, white storks, starlings and several species of hawks. He inscribed the bands with his name and address in the hope they would be returned to him if found. His system of banding became the model for our current efforts. Paul Bartsch began the first scientific system of banding in North America in 1902. The real pioneer bander was Jack Miner, who established a waterfowl sanctuary near Kingsville, Ontario. From 1909-1939, he banded 20,000 Canada geese and many of the bands were returned to him by hunters.
In 1920, the Bureau of Biological Survey and the Canadian Wildlife Service teamed up to manage banding efforts. Fredrick Lincoln was assigned the task of organizing the banding program in the United States under the Bureau of Biological Survey (now the United States Geological Survey). He stayed in charge for 26 years and is credited with developing numbering schemes and record keeping procedures. Ever since, the North American banding program has been a joint effort to oversee banding activities worldwide.
Migration studies continue today, but now banding has a much broader application. Current research data on banded birds is used to study bird behavior and ecology, monitor populations, restore endangered species, assess environmental effects and disturbances, set hunting regulations, educate people about the environment, and address concerns about human health, safety, and the economy. Results from banding studies support national and international conservation programs such as the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, North American Mourning Dove Management Plan and Partners in Flight.
Virtually all species of birds are, or have been, banded. Currently, 1.2 million birds are banded and 85,000 bands are recovered each year. More than 63 million birds have been banded since the beginning of the program and 3.5 million have been recovered and reported to the banding office. The banding program of the future will change as technology, research, and management needs develop. As the banding program changes, the future will continue to be linked by the fundamental element that each band placed on a bird’s leg identifies the individual bird and when reported, leads to valuable information on its movements, survival, and behavior.
The hunter is a critical link in many banding studies. If you harvest or observe a banded bird, please call the number on the band to report it. Banded birds also may be reported online by visiting http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbl. Reporters can keep the bands. They also will receive a certificate identifying the age, sex, date, and location where the bird was banded.