Bird banding program overview

As one of the most common and important research tools used by bird experts, bird banding provides vital data for scientific knowledge about birds and the environments in which they live. Bands identify individual birds so that we can better understand their movements to breeding sites, migratory pathways and wintering areas. By reporting bird bands, you contribute directly to conservation efforts. 

What to know about bird banding

On average, 340,000 birds are banded in Canada each year, making an average of 1.2 million birds banded per year in both Canada and the United States. The most frequently banded species in Canada is the Mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos) with about 2.3 million banded since the start of the program in the early 1900’s, followed by the Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) with about 840,000 banded. Within all of North America, there are over 7 million banded Mallards and 4 million banded Canada Geese.

Bird banding studies help to:

  • monitor bird populations and rates of survival
  • monitor ecosystem health
  • set regulations for hunted species
  • monitor endangered species
  • maintain longevity records

For example the longevity record for the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) is 9 years 2 months, the Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) is 11 years 11 months, the American Robin (Turdus migratorius) is 13 years 11 months, the Mallard Duck is 27 years 7 months, the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) is 28 years and the Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) is 30 years 4 months!

Canadian Atlas of Bird Banding

An atlas series with results of bird banding in Canada from 1921 to 1995 for birds other than waterfowl. The maps are useful to help understand migration patterns for many bird species in North America.

Types of markers

Researchers who study birds may also add additional markers to identify individuals in the field without the need to recapture them. The various colour and alphanumeric code combinations can be read from a distance with binoculars or a spotting scope. Different types of markers are used depending on the type of bird, its behaviour and the information needed. Bands weigh only a small fraction of a bird’s weight so as not to impede movement and researchers must follow strict protocols that have been tested and revised over the years to reduce any potential harm or hindrance to the birds.

A small metal band with a unique number is placed on a bird’s leg so that when its band is reported its movements can be reconstructed. Birds may also carry other markers such as:

  • neck collars, used to mark geese or swans and are large enough to be easily read from a distance with binoculars or a spotting scope
  • wing markers, used to mark vultures, eagles, swans, ravens, crows or herons and are generally visible while birds are in flight or perched
  • leg flags, used to mark shorebirds stick out from the upper leg with a code which can be read from a distance
  • leg bands of various colours can also be used on all types of birds to identify them as individuals or belonging to a specific location, age or project
  • dataloggers, transmitters and other electronic markers, record specific location information that can be downloaded or transmitted directly to the researcher

These markers help provide general and specific information about the movement and migration patterns of individual birds and are rapidly advancing our understanding of bird movements worldwide.

Permits

Bird banding is a scientific technique that requires expertise and skill usually gained over many years of study and field experience. To participate in bird banding activities, you must apply for a Scientific Permit to Capture and Band Migratory Birds. Generally, people with banding permits are professional ornithologists, biologists, wildlife technicians, or non-professional ornithologists who undertake specific studies.

People interested in banding birds begin as volunteer banders or students under the direct supervision and training of an experienced permitted bander. Once they have gained the necessary skills and have demonstrated competency in record keeping, ethical capture and handling, bird identification, ageing, sexing, and banding, they may apply for a sub-permit to work on a specific project.

The Canadian Bird Banding Office in Ottawa issues scientific permits to capture and band migratory birds in Canada, under the authority of the Migratory Birds Convention Act. Banders from the United States or other countries who wish to band migratory birds in Canada also require a permit.

North American Bird Banding Program

Although an average of 1.2 million birds are banded in the US and Canada each year, only about 10 percent of game bird bands and less than 1 percent of songbird bands are recovered. Your contribution is important!

Jointly administered by Canada's Bird Banding Office and the United States’ Bird Banding Laboratory, this program relies on the public to report their observations or recoveries of bird bands and other bird markers. This data helps scientists and researchers understand, monitor and conserve migratory birds. We also track and publish longevity records for each North American bird species. You can find this list on the USGS Bird Banding Laboratory website.

How to report a banded bird

If you see a marked bird you can report it online or call toll-free 1-800-327-BAND (2263) to leave a message. Visit the Report a Banded Bird page for more details.

Contact us

Bird Banding Office
National Wildlife Research Centre.
Environment and Climate Change Canada
Carleton University
1125 Colonel By Drive (Raven Rd)
Ottawa, ON K1A 0H3
Canada

Email: ec.bbo.ec@canada.ca
Telephone: 613-998-0524

If you have a permit number, please include it in the subject line of all emails along with your request (e.g. “12345 Permit modification”) in any correspondence with the Bird Banding Office.

Report a problem or mistake on this page
Please select all that apply:

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: