What is bird banding? The simple answer is modern bird banding is a research technique that requires attaching an individually numbered metal tag around a bird’s leg for identification purposes. However, the practice of marking birds has been around for centuries, and was definitely not standardized! The earliest record involves Henry IV and his personal peregrine falcons, which he banded with metal tags to mark as his property. In 1595, one was lost in France while hunting and showed up 1350 miles away in Malta just 24 hours later! Due to this recapture, we are able to know not only the fantastic distance the falcon flew, but that it’s speed was an average 56mph! John James Audubon is the first person to have "banded" birds in North America. In 1803, he tied silver cords to the legs of a family of phoebes, and relocated two of them the following year when they returned to his neightborhood.
However, it wasn't until 1899, when a teacher from Denmark, Hans Mortensen, placed aluminum rings, marked with his address, on the legs of a variety of bird species that the basis for our current system was born. His goal was to see if any of the bands would be recovered and returned to him. Since that time, bird banding has become a standard, systematic scientific research tool. Today, bird banding is regulated by the United States Geological Survey through the Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL). Birds are safely captured using mistnets, and extracted by trained banders. Bands are made of aluminum, and each has a unique identifying number that allows us to recognize a banded bird as an individual. Tens of millions of birds have been banded, and that information has allowed scientists to answer questions such as; where do birds go when they migrate, how old do they get, how long do they live and are populations growing or declining?
Aside from the wealth of scientific information generated, banding provides a meaningful way to connect people to wildlife and conservation. Here at Grange Insurance Audubon Center, we conduct spring and fall migration banding to monitor birds using the Scioto Audubon Metroparks as a stopover site. We enlist volunteers, teach school groups and engage visitors and provide an opportunity to marvel at these little creatures that undergo such amazing journeys. So please, stop by, visit, and learn a little too!