Bird Banding – A Necessary Evil?

For the first six years of my bird photography “career” I rarely encountered banded birds but in the last two years or so I encounter them regularly, some species more than others.  Usually when I see a bird with bands or transmitters strapped to their backs I don’t even click the shutter except for documentation purposes.


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This image of a banded Burrowing Owl was taken on July 13.  Based on my multiple encounters with them I’d  estimate that almost 3/4 of the Burrowing Owls on Antelope Island are banded or have transmitters.  Or both.



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This shot of a banded juvenile Loggerhead Shrike was taken on July 6.  Most (significantly over half) of the shrikes on the island are also banded.



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Like this adult, some shrikes have an incredible amount of “jewelry” strapped to their legs.




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This banded (look closely at its right leg) juvenile shrike landed on the tailgate of my pickup, also on the morning of July 6.



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On July 15 I photographed this Caspian Tern at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.  If you look closely you’ll see that it’s banded.



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Another shot of the same bird shows three bands on its left leg and one huge band on its right.

Last week I sent this image and reported the sighting to…



certificate of appreciation

and as they usually do they sent me this Certificate of Appreciation.  I always find it interesting to see when and where the bird was banded and by whom.  Obviously this kind of information can be of significant value in managing bird populations so I regularly report banded birds when I can read the numbers on the bands and I’ve long supported (publicly and otherwise) the banding efforts of legitimate banding organizations such as HawkWatch International and Great Salt Lake Institute (GSLI).

But my concerns about banding are growing.  It’s a complicated and controversial subject – much too complex to go into in any detail here but I’m reading reports that suggest that in many cases banding and other tracking instruments may be doing more harm to birds than we ever knew – in some cases more harm than good.  I’m aware of several banders that have at least some of the same concerns.

It’s a subject I’ll be following closely and likely be reporting on in the future.


Note: I’m off on another jaunt to Montana – duration unknown.  I’ve scheduled posts in my absence but I’ll be without access to a computer so I won’t be responding to any comments, though I do receive your comments on my phone when I have a signal and I always enjoy them. 

Wish me luck with the smoke from the fires in Washington, Oregon and Idaho – the prevailing wind direction is not helpful…



Savannah Sparrow Feeding Fledgling

During our last Montana trip we had multiple sessions over several days with a very cooperative Savannah Sparrow – “cooperative” in the sense that the bird could always be found in the same spot along the shore of Lower Red Rock Lake in Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.  Getting clear shots as the sparrow hunted in the grasses was often another story.


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 1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 t, not baited, set up or called in

I have no clue if the bird was male or female since the sexes are alike and they both feed their young but this parent was kept busy trying to satisfy the food demands of a single fledgling.  The youngster was usually hidden away in the grasses but occasionally it would come out in the “open” and beg for food as it followed its hunting parent.



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  1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 t, not baited, set up or called in

Getting clear shots of the feeding process was a challenge and in the process I learned another photography lesson from these birds – next time I’ll use my 100-400 mm zoom lens in a situation like this rather than my 500mm prime.  The birds were so quick and they were often so tight in the frame that I spent most of my time searching for them through my viewfinder.  By the time I found them and almost locked focus on them they were often already gone.



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Another challenge was the flying insects.  Hordes of them!  There were horse flies, deer flies, mosquitoes and many others.  As you can see, one species (not mosquitoes) had a particular affinity for my windshield but thankfully they didn’t bite.  But since we obviously have to shoot with the windows open the biting species ate us alive, even after we almost bathed in Deet.  We did a lot of what I call “itchin and bitchin” while photographing the sparrow and for a long time after.

Sharp-eyed readers may notice the mileage on my pickup from the oil change sticker on the windshield.  The pickup is barely over three years old and will turn over 100,000 miles this week.  I estimate that over 90,000 of those miles are “bird miles”.   Sometimes I think I’m just a little bit crazy…



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   1/1600, f/6.3, ISO 400, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 t, not baited, set up or called in

Two summers ago and in the same general area I photographed this Savannah Sparrow feeding a Brown-Headed Cowbird chick.  As most of my readers are aware, cowbirds parasitize other species by laying eggs in their nests.  The host species hatchlings often do not survive as the much larger and more aggressive cowbird chicks get most of the food that is delivered to the nest (interestingly it’s relatively rare for cowbirds to parasitize Savannah Sparrows).

So on this last trip I was pleased to see the Savannah Sparrow feeding one of its own.