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Ornithology Exchange

Bird Banding Laboratory – USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

Chris Merkord
  • BBL

Bird banding is an universal and indispensable technique for studying the movement, survival and behavior of birds. The North American Bird Banding Program is jointly administered by the United States Department of the Interior and the Canadian Wildlife Service . Their respective banding offices have similar functions and policies and use the same bands, reporting forms and data formats. Joint coordination of the program dates back to 1923.


Bird banding is one of the most useful tools in the modern study of wild birds. Wild birds are captured and marked with a uniquely numbered band or ring placed on the leg. The bander records where and when each bird is banded, how old it is, what sex it is, and any other information and sends those data to the Bird Banding Laboratory. Information from bands subsequently found and reported to the Bird Banding Laboratory provides data on the distribution and movements of species, their relative numbers, annual production, life-span and causes of death. Such information increases our knowledge and understanding of birds and their habits and assists us in their management and conservation.


The Bird Banding Laboratory issues permits that allow people and organizations to band birds. The Bird Banding Laboratory also issues bands to banders in the United States and maintains the data collected by banders. Some researchers request special authorizations to use markers that allow an individual bird to be identified at a distance or tracked using radio transmitters. The Bird Banding Laboratory does not actually band birds. Instead, the Bird Banding Laboratory issues the permits, provides the bands, and coordinates the marking projects in the United States.


The Bird Banding Program supports the work of federal and state conservation agencies, the academic community, professional and amateur ornithologists, nongovernmental organizations, and businesses. These banders are involved in promulgating hunting regulations, monitoring bird populations, restoring endangered species, studying effects of environmental contaminants, studying bird behavior and ecology, and addressing issues of human health, safety and economy that involve birds.

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