Frequently Asked Questions
Why do we band birds?
There are many ways to monitor birds. RPBO uses several of these methods - a standardized daily census along an established transect, observations by experienced birders, and bird banding. Each strategy has its purpose, and together, provide more information about bird populations than any of these methods could alone. New methods, such as the use of geolocators and satellite transmitters and the analysis of stable isotopes in bird feathers are being added to strategies for monitoring birds.
We are members of the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network (CMMN), which exists to provide difficult-to-obtain information on bird populations across the country. RPBO is the only CMMN station on the west coast. Our data was vital in the 2019 publication by Bird Studies Canada on The State of Canada's Birds
Bird banding is very carefully regulated by the Canadian Wildlife Service in Canada. In order to even obtain bird bands, applicants must provide details of their research projects and obtain a banding permit. These are not issued without evidence of the value of the banding project. All of RPBO's banding projects have a licensed bander-in-charge to ensure bird safety and the integrity of the data that is collected. Bird safety is a top priority for our banders who follow the North American Banding Council's Banders' Code of Ethics.
Here are just a few points about why we include bird banding in our monitoring programs:
- While it is possible to get some information from simply observing birds in the field, details on the age and or sex of many species can only be determined by having the bird in the hand. The demographics of the population provide information on the quality of the birds' breeding or wintering grounds, availability of food, and survival of the young and adults.
- Many common species are under-represented in visual counts. For instance, Northern Saw-whet Owls were considered rare in this area until we started our owl banding project in 2002. Now they are usually the most frequently banded bird during our fall migration. The same holds true for some of our passerine species. Few flycatchers or Ruby-crowned Kinglets are observed, but many are banded. We would underestimate their presence without the banding component. Overall, an extremely small portion of the bird population is banded (for instance, fewer than 1 in 20,000 Orange-crowned Warblers), but this small sample provides information that is not available through any other means.
- Identification of individual birds tells us a lot about their site fidelity and longevity. For instance, we have recaptured migratory Rufous Hummingbirds eight years after originally banding them-at exactly the same location. These birds travel thousands of kilometres twice a year and return to the same small plot of land. This has serious conservation implications for bird habitat.
- Our findings are not limited to those studying bird populations or conserving habitat. We recently captured a Song Sparrow originally banded in 2008. This bird has a bill deformity that we thought might have shortened its life, yet it's still travelling the same migratory route seven years later. This kind of information has implications for wildlife rehabilitators.
- Up close and personal interaction with wild birds has a lasting impact on those involved. We've seen children choose to go into science and conservation as careers on the basis of a field trip to our banding sites. Most visitors are in awe of the delicate strength of these creatures, and often comment on how much they've learned in just a short visit. We use these opportunities to talk to people about the use of pesticides, keeping cats indoors, providing food and habitat, and otherwise improving the situation for the diminishing population of birds.
It's important to remember that banding is just one of the ways we are monitoring birds.
Do bands interfere with the bird's activities?
Once banded, the bird is free to continue its life with the addition of a small piece of aluminum that weighs less than a meal or a tick, and a small fraction of the weight of an egg. Ensuring that bands do not negatively impact birds is paramount in getting the data that we seek. The conservation of species requires knowledge about the whole life of the species and of populations within it and the only way to obtain this information is by being able to identify individual birds.
Is there a danger that birds will outgrow their bands?
Bird legs reach their full size while the bird is in the nest. Thus, by selecting the appropriate-sized band for the species, banders ensure it will fit them throughout their lifetime.
How do I report a bird I saw with a band?
Perhaps you've been lucky enough to capture a bird band in a photograph or you've found a dead bird with a band on its leg. If so, please use one of the methods below to report the band to the Bird Banding Laboratory. This information is used to document movements, longevity, and sources of mortality for North America's migratory birds and contributes to monitoring populations, restoring endangered species, studying the effects of environmental contaminants, etc.
You can report a bird band using any of the following methods:
- Online: http://www.reportband.gov
- By phone: 1-800-327-BAND (1-800-327-2263)
- By mail: Bird Banding Laboratory, 12100 Beech Forest Rd, Laurel, MD 20708
Canada Geese If you see Canada Geese with "P" series collars please also report them to Vancouver Island University's Goose Project.
Purple Martins The BC Purple Martin Stewardship and Recovery Program was launched in 2002 in an effort to increase the number of nesting pairs of these birds in BC. If you spot one or two bands please report them using the procedures outlined above. If you are interested in observing and reporting more bands please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on reporting band recoveries see the Environment Canada page on reporting banded birds.
Click Reporting Bird Bands for a downloadable information page.