All About Birds: Banding Birds

“Does your group band black skimmers?” was the title on an email to the account. “Today, I photographed one with a YELLOW BAND and the NC Audubon researcher tells me that this is a band from NY. I can send a photo, or if you’re not the group and can forward my info, I would appreciate it.” Frank Baker wrote.
I emailed back that perhaps it’s banded by a bander at Nickerson Beach and included the email of a South Shore Society Audubon Society member who monitors shorebirds. She emailed him, “Yes, Town of Hempstead bands skimmers with yellow bands. Please forward the photo to me and I will send it to our banding team.”
Frank sent the photo and this message: “ I received the message below from a South Carolina resident who found a skimmer with a yellow band. NC Audubon told him it was a NY bird and he would like more information about it. If you zoom you can see the E87 letters on the tag. I’m very interested in knowing where this bird was first banded. Also, I have a NY transplant, here in Mt Pleasant who is also interested. I have previously reported this banded bird on the federal site. It was photographed at Breach Inlet–a small beach located between Isle of Palms, SC and Sullivans Island, SC.’”
Then Frank received this email back. ”Hi Frank, My name is Kate Goodenough and I am a seabird ecologist. I am working with folks in New York to track the migration of Black Skimmers. E87 is a female that was banded as a chick in August 2019 at the Nickerson Beach colony on Long Island. Can you provide a date for when you spotted the banded skimmer? Between October to mid-December, the NY skimmers slowly wander southward to Florida and Cuba, although there are a few that will actually winter in SC and GA (especially the younger non-breeders). Cheers and thanks for the resight! Kate.”
Recently, a banded Adirondack loon was resighted off the coast of Wilmington, North Carolina by a photographer, whose excellent photos clearly show the full band combination of this loon, allowing its identification. The loon was originally banded on Big Moose Lake in the summer of 2020. She successfully raised a chick in 2020 and 2022. However, she was not resighted in the summer of 2023, so she likely switched territories and her new territory had yet to be discovered, or she simply evaded the dedicated field staff and volunteers. Band resights such as this one provide critical information for loon research and conservation. Specifically, they help estimate survival of individual loons outside of the breeding season and are especially important for loons that have not been seen in recent breeding seasons. Collecting accurate winter location data of common loons can help improve conservation efforts, better model the geographical range of the Adirondack loon population and monitor potential impacts throughout their full range, such as oil spills.
I am not familiar with how these birds were first captured and originally banded. I am familiar capturing them using mist nets and then placing a band. The master bander identifies the bird species and notes its characteristics such as age, sex, weight and wing measurements and records this information for the US Fish and Wildlife Service when done in the US. The age is indicated as “after hatch year or hatch year or unknown.” If the bird is recaptured in another mist net or is found deceased, the band information is entered again. This information can indicate migration routes when the bird is found in a different location as in the first examples. Another useful piece of information is age. Common yellow-throated warblers banded at JFK Memorial Wildlife Sanctuary in Town of Oyster Bay and then recaptured there are found to be eight years old in some cases.
Determining the average lifespan of a bird species is a tricky thing. Ornithologists tend to think more in terms of survivorship percentages. For instance, an adult male painted bunting is thought to have a 78 percent chance of surviving until the next year, an adult female an 81 percent chance, and a hatch-year bird a 33 percent chance.
A sighting in South Carolina gave an idea of how long a painted bunting might possibly live: 14 years! At least that is the current record. It came from a sighting of a bird first banded in 2009 at a farmhouse. The owners had been watching the bird come to their feeder in the almost decade-and-a-half since—painted buntings have a heavy tendency toward site fidelity—but it wasn’t until the bird was recaptured last July to read its band number that they were sure. This tied a previous record of a 14-year-old painted bunting in Georgia. The South Carolina bunting was released quickly so as to cause it as little stress as possible, and everyone has their fingers crossed that the bird will reappear next spring for some definitive record breaking.
Attend the Manhasset Public Library on May 28 at 7 pm or use Zoom for an in-depth look at bird banding sponsored by North Shore Audubon Society.

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