Banding birds vs telemetry

Because of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and associated regulations, all bird banding is done under a Federal Banding and Marking Permit from the US Geological Survey. The permit outlines allowed species and activities (what are you trying to learn), as well as all the individuals allowed to help with that project. All bird banding permits and activity is managed by the US Geological Survey Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL) at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Since 1920, the BBL has been a scientific program responsible for the “…collection, archiving, management and dissemination of information from banded and marked birds in North America.” Learn more here:

Why band birds?

The data collected from the bird bander and from people that have an “encounter” with an already banded bird provide useful information for scientific research and management activities. Bird banding data helps biologists understand dispersal, migration, longevity, behavior, productivity, and more.

An example from SOAR:

great horned owl

On 27 August 2019, Cass County Conservation rescued a great horned owl about six miles south of Atlantic, Iowa. This owl sported a USGS band. This is an example of a bird band encounter. If you find a banded bird you should report the band number and location to The band encounter was reported and this great horned owl was banded by Kay before being released on the southwest edge of Atlantic, Iowa… 11 years ago! This is dispersal information, dispersal from release location for this owl. This is important for a raptor rehabilitator to know – in this instance, great horned owls may not travel or disperse very far from where released. The great horned owl pictured here is that banded owl in a flight pen regaining flight skills.

This great horned owl’s band encounter adds to the collection of reports for longevity. Curious about how long has a certain species lived? Visit the BBL longevity search page:

Differences between banding birds and using telemetry?

Both bands and telemetry must be put on the bird by someone with the banding permit. Data collected from band encounters is not (hopefully) quickly known by the bander. With raptors, band encounters may happen through research projects including hawk banding stations, through birds being admitted to a rehabilitator, or by birds being found dead in the field.

A telemetry unit permit is most often associated with a large-scale research project that has substantial funding and partner agencies. Tracking a bird with telemetry varies depending on the type of unit — a UHF unit that can be monitored using a handheld antennae, a telemetry unit that utilizes satellite technology, or a GPS-GSM telemetry system where data points are downloaded when the unit has cellular signal.

Learn more: