Bird Banding Laboratory


Search BBL Website

NEW INFO

Bandit

Site Map Index

Contact Info

Asistencia en Espanol

A Brief History about the origins of Bird Banding


Images of Early Banding

People have been banding (or ringing, as it is called in Europe) birds for centuries. The first record of a metal band attached to a bird's leg was about 1595 when one of Henry IV's banded Peregrine Falcons was lost in pursuit of a bustard in France. It showed up 24 hours later in Malta, about 1350 miles away, averaging 56 miles an hour!

Duke Ferdinand placed a silver band on a Grey Heron about 1669: the bird was recovered by his grandson about 1728, indicating the heron lived at least 60 years. In 1710 in Germany, a falconer captured a grey heron with several rings on one leg. The bander was unknown but one of the rings was apparently placed on the heron in Turkey, more than 1200 miles to the east.

The first records of banding in North America are those of John James Audubon, the famous American naturalist and painter. In 1803 he tied silver cords to the legs of a brood of phoebes near Philadelphia and was able to identify two of the nestlings when they returned to the neighborhood the following year.

A system for bird banding did not really develop until 1899, when Hans Mortensen, a Danish school teacher, began placing aluminum rings on the legs of European teal, pintail, white storks, starlings and several types of hawks. He inscribed the bands with his name and address in the hope they would be returned to him if found. His system of banding became the model for our current efforts.

In 1902 Paul Bartsch, a well-known conchologist whose hobby was the study of birds, began the first scientific system of banding in North America. In that year he ringed more than 100 black-crowned night herons in the District of Columbia with bands inscribed "Return to Smithsonian Institution". The real pioneer bander in the Americas was Jack Miner who established a waterfowl sanctuary near Kingsville, Ontario. Between 1909 and 1939 he banded 20,000 Canada Geese alone, many of which carried bands returned to him by hunters

By 1909 the American Bird Banding Association had been formed to organize and assist the growing numbers. In 1920 the Bureau of Biological Survey and the Canadian Wildlife Service accepted the offer to jointly take over the work of the Association. Frederick Lincoln was assigned the task of organizing the banding program in the USA in the Bureau of Biological Survey (now the United States Geologic Survey.) The North American banding program has been a joint effort to oversee the activities of dedicated banders all over the world ever since.


 

100 Years of Bird Banding in North America 1902 - 2002

John Tautin, Bird Banding Laboratory
From a poster prepared for the Partners in Flight Meeting, 2002


1902 - Paul Bartsch bands herons

 

 

 

 

 

first banded species

photo of Paul Bartsch

*Bartsch, P. 1904.
Notes on the Herons of the District of
Columbia. Smithsonian
Miscellaneous Collections. Pub.
No. 1419. 45:104-111.

Atlantic Naturalist

"There are still many unsolved problems about bird life, among which are the age that birds attain, the exact time at which

some birds acquire their adult dress, and the changes which occur in this with years. Little, too, is known about the laws and routes of bird migration, and much less about the final disposition of the untold thousands which are annually produced." *

With these problems in mind, Dr. Paul Bartsch of the Smithsonian Institution initiated systematic, scientific bird banding in North America in 1902. Bartsch banded 23 Black-crowned Night-herons at Washington, DC using serially numbered leg bands with the year and a "Return to Smithsonian Institution" address inscribed on them. Bartsch had his first band recovery in September, 1902 and he published his work in 1904.*

Pacific Flyway

 

 

Lincoln's permit

Lincoln developed the flyways concept
US Bureau of Biological Survey
The Pacific Flyway - Bob Hines, 
Waterfowl Tomorrow

US Bureau of Biological Survey

 

Others soon followed Bartsch. In 1905, James Henry Fleming banded the first bird in Canada, an American Robin at his home at Toronto, Ontario. His bands were inscribed with the address "Notify The Auk. N.Y.", and were supplied by noted Canadian ornithologist P. A. Taverner who was an early proponent of bird banding. Another Canadian, Jack Miner, began banding waterfowl in 1909 at his Kingsville, Ontario sanctuary.

Back in the US, Leon Cole of the University of Wisconsin promoted bird banding and founded the American Bird Banding Association in 1909. The Association oversaw bird banding until the US (1920) and Canadian (1923) federal bird banding offices were established following the 1916 Migratory Birds Convention

band record
examples of bird bands

 




1920 - Frederick Lincoln expands the banding program

Frederick C. Lincoln

and the formation of the North American bird banding program

The year 2002 marked the 100th anniversary of scientific bird banding in North America.*

Many people were involved with the early development of bird banding in North America, but none was so influential as Frederick C. Lincoln. Beginning in 1920, and building on previous attempts to organize bird banding, Lincoln formed a continental program that today remains a cornerstone of avian research, management and conservation.

Frederick Charles Lincoln was born in 1892 at Denver, Co. His adolescent interest in birds matured under the tutelage of L. J. Hershey, Curator of Ornithology at the Colorado Museum of Natural History, and Alexander Wetmore, who was then a University of Kansas student working at the Museum. Foregoing attending the University of Kansas himself, Lincoln instead went to work for Hershey as an assistant in the bird department at the Museum. In 1913, at the age of 21, Lincoln succeeded Hershey as Curator of Ornithology at the Colorado Museum of Natural History. Lincoln held the position until 1920, taking time out in 1918-1919 to serve in the US Army as a Pigeon Expert in the Signal Corps.

In 1920, Lincoln joined the US Bureau of Biological Survey at Washington, DC, where he was assigned the daunting task of organizing the Nation's bird banding program. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 had established Federal responsibility for migratory birds, and support for the American Bird Banding Association, which until then had organized bird banding, had waned. Additionally, practicality and comity argued for the development of a uniform, sustainable bird banding program. Lincoln approached his task with the characteristic professionalism, thoroughness, vision and dedication that would see him become an accomplished biologist, writer and administrator over the next three decades.

Lincoln was in charge of the US bird banding program from 1920 to 1946. Behind the

scenes, he organized the banding office, and developed numbering schemes and record keeping procedures. He recruited banders, established standards, fostered international cooperation, and promoted banding as a tool in scientific research and management. But Lincoln is known best for his many published works. 

Frederick Lincoln at desk F. C. Lincoln
US National Archives
Lincoln was an accomplished biologist,
administrator and writer
US Bureau of Biological Survey

Lincoln remained in charge of the banding program until 1946. As his career progressed, his duties and sphere of influence were ever expanding. He eventually became responsible for a much broader migratory bird program where, just as with banding, he made many lasting contributions to migratory bird conservation.

Frederick C. Lincoln died in 1960, leaving a legacy of accomplishment in the formation of the North American bird banding program. Remarkably, Lincoln's accomplishments were made without his having had the benefit of a college education.

Among the many who helped form the North American bird banding program, Frederick C. Lincoln was the most influential. Lincoln joined the US Biological Survey in 1920 and was put in charge of organizing the US banding office. He stayed in charge for 26 years and left a remarkable legacy of accomplishment. An effective administrator, he developed

numbering schemes and record keeping procedures. He recruited banders, established standards, and fostered international cooperation. A prolific writer, he produced scores of journal articles, books, manuals and communications related to banding. Also a visionary, he promoted banding as a tool of science, and he developed the "Lincoln Index" population model and the Flyways concept. Frederick C. Lincoln arguably can be credited with laying the foundation for today's North American bird banding program.

1944 press release about the discovery the Chimney Swift wintering grounds via band recoveries

Some of Lincoln's works

Bird Banding Notes. This long-running series of communications for, and about, banders and other collaborators, promoted banding and provided comprehensive information on banding policies, processes and techniques.

Returns from Banded Birds, 1920 to 1923. Early publication of results was important in demonstrating the value of banding. Similar works followed, and by the end of his career, Lincoln had more than 250 publications to his credit. Many were founded in banding.

Manual for Bird Banders. Co-authored with E. P. Baldwin in 1929, the Manual became the definitive work on banding techniques.

Calculating Waterfowl Abundance on the Basis of Banding Returns. Published in1930, this brief circular presented the famous "Lincoln Index" method for estimating abundance from recaptures of marked animals.

The Waterfowl Flyways of North America. In 1935, relying on data from waterfowl banding, Lincoln developed the Flyways concept. The concept gained widespread credence and is still applied in an administrative context with the annual development of migratory bird hunting regulations.

The Migration of North American Birds, 1935. Also a definitive work, Migration had both popular and scientific appeal, making Lincoln an authority on bird migration.

The Migration of American Birds, 1939. This expanded and more popularized work was illustrated by L.A. Fuertes and published by Doubleday. Lincoln also co-authored American Waterfowl and Birds of Alaska, and he wrote chapters for numerous other books.

The Waterfowl Flyways of North America. In 1935, relying on data from waterfowl banding, Lincoln developed the Flyways concept. The concept gained widespread credence and is still applied in an administrative context with the annual development of migratory bird hunting regulations.

The Migration of North American Birds, 1935. Also a definitive work, Migration had both popular and scientific appeal, making Lincoln an authority on bird migration.

The Migration of American Birds, 1939. This expanded and more popularized work was illustrated by L.A. Fuertes and published by Doubleday. Lincoln also co-authored American Waterfowl and Birds of Alaska, and he wrote chapters for numerous other books.

 

Go to Top