January 29, 2019
By Allison Shultz
Have you ever seen a bird with a silver band around one of its legs? Over the last two weeks, I've had a Western Gull with a band visiting the second floor balcony of NHMLA, right outside of my window in the Ornithology Department.
A banded bird, like this one, is very special, because that means at some point a scientist has captured it, taken measurements and other data about the bird, and released it. Although not always the case, it is always hoped that banded birds will be seen again, which would help researchers to understand aspects of life history for that species (for example, how far it might travel, or how old it might live to). Once a bird is banded, it is registered in a federal database, so that anyone who sees it again can report it to the USGS here. Once it is reported, not only will the original researcher get the data, but the person reporting it will also receive information on where and when the bird was originally banded.
Back to our friend the Western Gull, Kimball Garrett and I managed to read the entire band number using a combination of a spotting scope, binoculars and photographs, and after waiting for the bird to move around so we could see around the entire band (those tiny numbers are hard to read!). When we entered our number into the database we learned that this bird was actually banded as a chick all the way back on June 15th, 2001 on Anacapa Island in the Channel Islands, making it nearly 18 years old! Western Gulls can live to be about 25 years old, so this bird is pretty old for its species.
In addition to the silver band on its left leg, if you look carefully, you might notice a white band on top of a black band on its right leg. A bird can also have colored bands in addition to the metal silver band. These color combinations can help researchers to identify birds in behavioral studies, when it would be too difficult to tell individuals apart by small numbers written on the silver bands. These color combinations can also be reported.
The next time you see a bird with colored or silver bands, try to see a number (photo documentation is even better!) and report it to the USGS bird banding database.
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