About Bird Bands

Small Bands under a Magnifying GlassBird Bands in a Variety of Sizes and Types

There are several different types of bands used on wild birds in North America. Each type of band is made in many different sizes so that every bird has a suitable size band available for use by banders. Bands provided by the Bird Banding Laboratory are made of aluminum and inscribed CALL 1-800-327 BAND and WWW.REPORTBAND.GOV followed by a unique 8 or 9 digit number. The older bird bands had the legend WRITE BIRD BAND LAUREL MD 20708 USA or AVISE BIRD BAND WASH DC. These bands are from the same agency as the new bands and can be reported at www.reportband.gov or on the 1-800 telephone number.

There are 25 standard size bands and 5 specially sized bands made to accommodate the smallest hummingbird to the large Trumpeter Swan. In addition there are 4 common types of bands which include the standard butt-end band, the lock-on bands used on hawks and owls, rivet bands used on eagles, and hard metal bands for use on birds that would otherwise outlive their bands or are in harsh environments like salt water that may wear the regular bands too quickly.


bird bands in different sizes

Photo USGS - Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

Bands do wear out eventually, but even a very worn band with the numbers seemingly invisible can have the numbers determined using etching. To learn more about etching bands, click here. Hundreds of bands are etched and returned to hunters by the Bird Banding Laboratory every year.

Butt-end Bands

The most common type of band used in North America is the butt-end band. This band is a round band with two edges that butt evenly together when closed correctly. Butt-end bands are supplied by the Bird Banding Laboratory to licensed US banders free of charge. Bands made of a harder metal, typically stainless steel, monel or incoloy, are used on birds that live for many years or live in salt water environments. Some sizes of hard metal bands are available to banders now, but most must be purchased at the banders expense.

Lock-on and Rivet Bands

Lock-on and Rivet bands are specifically designed to stop birds with strong bills like hawks and owls from opening or damaging the band with their strong bill. The lock-on band is used on all medium to large birds of prey other than eagles. The band is like a normal butt-end band with two flanges of metal. The longer flange is folded over the shorter flange, effectively "locking" the band in place. The band is made of relatively soft aluminum and can be removed by the bander, but not by the bird.

Rivet Band for an Eagle

Rivet bands are made of harder metal than the lock-on band (but not stainless steel) and are used on eagles. The band has two short flanges of metal that project out from the seam where the two ends of the band meet. These flanges are side by side when the band is closed with a hole for a rivet. The band is riveted in place.

Other bands are sometimes seen on birds. Some of these can be reported to the Bird Banding Laboratory, but most cannot. To learn more about other types of bands, click here. Color bands are used to identify individual birds visually, this is a type of auxiliary marker. To learn more about color bands and other auxiliary markers, click here.

To learn about markers used on birds other than bands, click here.

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