What Is Banding?

Bird banding is a process of placing a small, lightweight ring around a bird’s leg.  These rings can be made of plastic or metal and each is coded with a unique number or code.  These codes are then used to precisely distinguish one bird from another.

Bird banding is a federally regulated process according to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, 50 CFR 21.  This requires a federal bird banding permit, as well as permits from states and provinces to legally band any migratory bird.

When the PMCA bands Purple Martins it uses two bands per bird, one band on each leg.  One of the bands is called the Federal or FWS band, on this band there will be a 9 digit number split over two lines on the band.

The second band that the PMCA uses is call an auxiliary or AUX band.  The band will be placed on the opposite leg from the FWS band, and is usually colored.  This will contain a four digit code consisting of one letter followed by three numbers, and the state in which the bird was banded.  By adding the state abbreviation to the band, banders in different states are able to use the same color combinations.  The code on an auxiliary band is usually made to coincide with the federal band’s code in some way.

Most banding is done when the birds are nestlings and unable to fly, but un-banded adults and sub-adults are also captured and banded.  Banding does not harm the birds; wearing a band is much like wearing a ring or watch, and different species of birds will use different sizes of bands.

Banded Purple Martin

Why Do We Band?

Band reading is one of the most important parts of the PMCA’s banding program.  Bands can be read using a spotting scope at a colony sight.  By reading bands we are able to collect data on who has returned from migration, parentage, and life expectancy as well as enable other research such as geolocators/GPS tracking.  There is a possibility that some of the birds at your colony could be banded, so break out those binoculars or spotting scopes and take a look. 

Can I band my martins?

Because banding is federally regulated most individuals are not able to get a banding permit.  If you would like to have your martins banded you can check with a local chapter of the Audubon Society or state wildlife agency for any local banders.

Banded Purple Martin Nestling

How Do I Report a Band?

If you find any banded martins please look for the federal band number and report it at the Bird Banding Laboratory’s website.  They will be able to tell you when and where the bird was banded and it will add to the growing knowledge about migration and dispersal.  We would also love to hear about any auxiliary banded martins you might find, so please email [javascript protected email address] with any band numbers, but always inform the Bird Banding Laboratory first.

Recommended Reading:
Banding Purple Martins
Natal Dispersal