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home : birding w/don reimer : birding w/don reimer
January 29, 2020

8/20/2009 1:09:00 PM
Banded Birds -
Banded Glossy Ibis at Weskeag Marsh on August 6  Photo by Don Reimer
Banded Glossy Ibis at Weskeag Marsh on August 6 Photo by Don Reimer
by Don Reimer

In 1803 North American bird banding unofficially began when teenaged John J. Audubon attached delicate silver cords to the legs of some nestling Eastern Phoebes. Two of the birds returned to his neighborhood the following spring. Since then more than 63 million birds have been banded, and 3.5 million bands have been either recovered or recorded on live birds.

By established practice, a small metal leg band is attached to the leg of a bird; this band carries a federal identification number that is recorded at the Bird Banding Lab at Laurel Maryland. Information about the species of the bird and other characteristics, such as age and sex (if known), are also recorded. In addition to the metal band, colored "auxiliary" markers with bold numbering and lettering are sometimes added for easier identification of larger birds such as waterfowl. Other types of banding devices include neck bands and collars, brightly colored wing tags, tail streamers and tiny radio transmitters; tags are applied to the webbed feet of some waterfowl. A great body of knowledge about migration patterns, timing of migration, social behavior and life spans has resulted from decades of banding efforts. The Bird Banding Lab serves as a national data center and clearinghouse for information on band recoveries.

The Glossy Ibis in the photo arrived at Weskeag Marsh in early August with four others. This non-breeding plumaged bird carried a left leg band that read, "L2J." A second banded ibis was also present at the time, but the band number could not be distinguished. I e-mailed the band information to Maryland and await their response. Originally I assumed that this ibis flock had wandered northward from the Stratton Island nesting area near Scarborough. I have now learned, however, that no ibises were banded on that island this year. Unless this ibis is more than one year old, it came from somewhere farther south.

Down through the years, I was fortunate to spot several banded birds. Once I lured a young Great Black-backed Gull close enough to read its band number in a Rockland Harbor parking lot (gulls love sandwiches). That bird had traveled from an offshore nesting island near Bar Harbor. Following a strong summer storm in August 1991, my birding companion Mark and I discovered a storm-swept Royal Tern at Popham Beach. The dead immature tern wore a simple metal leg band. When Mark mailed the recovered band to Maryland for identification, we learned that it was banded on June 21, 1991, near Lola, North Carolina. This was certainly interesting information. More fascinating, however, was the fact that Mark's lifelong friend John Weske had banded this particular baby tern on a beach on the Outer Banks two months earlier: "It was too young to fly at the time of banding." Separated by hundreds of miles, these two friends had handled the same bird.

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