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Home Science What Scientists Have Learned from 100 Years of Bird Banding

What Scientists Have Learned from 100 Years of Bird Banding

The yr was 1902. Paul Bartsch, a mollusk researcher on the Smithsonian Institution, puzzled whether or not the aquatic snails he was learning could possibly be unfold from one physique of water to a different by aquatic birds. To discover out, he wanted to trace the actions of birds. Bartsch hatched a plan. He fixed light-weight aluminum rings inscribed with the yr, a serial quantity and a Smithsonian return deal with across the legs of 23 nestling black-crowned evening herons that he captured alongside the Anacostia River outdoors Washington, D.C. And then Bartsch waited for news of the banded birds—the place they had been sighted, what had change into of them.

Only one of the 23 herons was reported to him. The chicken was shot shortly after being banded, however its resighting revealed the place the creature had been headed within the interim: the heron turned up in Abington, Md., 55 miles northeast of the place Bartsch had banded it. Although that preliminary perception was modest, Bartsch’s method to acquiring it was revolutionary: he had simply change into the primary individual in North America to systematically band birds for scientific analysis.

Bartsch outfitted extra herons with serially numbered bands the next yr, and different researchers started banding other forms of birds elsewhere in North America. In 1920 the federal chicken banding workplace was established within the U.S. Known at this time because the U.S. Geological Survey Bird Banding Laboratory, it really works with its Canadian counterpart to run the North American Bird Banding Program, which manages greater than 77 million archived banding data and greater than 5 million data of encounters with banded birds from the previous 100 years. Every yr this system sends about 1,000,000 bands to banders within the U.S. and Canada and provides some 100,000 new encounter stories to its database. Birds can also be geared up with auxiliary markers comparable to shade bands or satellite tv for pc transmitters. Researchers world wide use the info to observe resident and migratory birds.

Banding research have illuminated the hidden lives of most of the greater than 900 avian species that spend time in North America, from raptors to waterfowl, from seabirds to songbirds. A peregrine falcon monitoring mission in coastal Washington State has discovered that along with searching on the wing, this formidable predator—the quickest species on earth—truly scavenges meals pretty typically. On Midway Atoll, a feminine Laysan albatross named Wisdom, first banded in 1956 and sighted as not too long ago as November 2020 incubating a brand new egg, has helped present that seabirds dwell and reproduce far longer than beforehand thought.

In many circumstances, banding information have recognized imperiled species and populations—and knowledgeable the event of administration methods aimed toward defending the birds. The whooping crane, a spectacular five-foot-tall chicken with snow-white plumage native to North America, is one of the shining success tales to return out of banding work, in line with Antonio Celis-Murillo, head of the Bird Banding Laboratory. In the Nineteen Forties the species was on the brink of extinction. Its final remaining inhabitants had dwindled to only 16 people because of this of unregulated attempting to find their meat and showy feathers, in addition to loss of the wetlands the place they dwell. Today, after 5 a long time of captive breeding and cautious monitoring of banded cranes, there are 4 populations of wild whooping cranes that collectively comprise greater than 660 birds. The species remains to be endangered however trending in the precise course.

In current years, Celis-Murillo says, the scientists who work with banding information have been shifting their focus towards saving not simply birds however their habitats. For occasion, banding research have recognized a serious beforehand unknown wintering floor for the Atlantic subspecies of piping plover, a small sand-colored shorebird that skitters alongside the water’s edge feeding on worms and different invertebrates. About a 3rd of the subspecies, which breeds alongside the Atlantic coast, spends the winter months on a clutch of islands within the Bahamas referred to as the Joulter Cays. The discovery helped result in the designation of the realm as a protected nationwide park in 2015.

Bird banding has at all times relied on newbie scientists—from the volunteers who endure rigorous coaching to catch and band birds to the individuals who report sightings of these birds. Traditionally most human encounters with banded birds have been between hunters and waterfowl, in line with biologist Danny Bystrak of the Bird Banding Laboratory. Indeed, one of the key purposes of banding information has been establishing laws for hunters to assist preserve sustainable populations of sport birds.

But that sample is altering. Hunting is lowering, and chicken statement and pictures are on the rise, Celis-Murillo says. The development may provide a vivid spot within the pandemic gloom. With so many of us taking on bird-watching in these lonely occasions, he predicts a bump in sightings of banded birds, which will be reported at* The ensuing information will assist new research of birds and their habitats take to the air.


The Bird Banding Laboratory has been curating chicken banding data since 1920. In 1959 a fireplace broken many of the data, which helped to drive a shift towards digital report preserving. For sensible causes, most analysis tasks at this time take care of the digitized data, beginning with birds first banded or reencountered after 1960. Here we present the birds that lie on the coronary heart of the digitized information: 70,593,588 banding data and 4,134,060 reencounter data from 1960 by means of 2016.


Long-term banding data can present adjustments in chicken populations, behaviors and environments over time. That data, in flip, can inform choices about the right way to defend the animals and their habitats. Here we map the digitized banding information by location and season, revealing the relative quantity and variety of birds banded at every level in area and time from 1960 by means of 2016.

*Editor’s Note (2/17/21): This sentence was revised after posting to right the URL for reporting sightings of banded birds.

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