Alaska Science Center
A Brief History
People have been banding birds for centuries. The first record of a metal band attached to a bird’s leg was about 1595 when a banded Peregrine Falcon, belonging to King Henry IV of France, was lost in pursuit of a hawk. It showed up 24 hours later in Malta, about 1,350 miles away.
The first records of banding in North America belong to John James Audubon, one of the founders of ornithology, and a talented painter of birds. In 1803, Audubon tied silver ribbons to the legs of young phoebes near Philadelphia and was able to identify two of the same birds when they returned to the area the following year.
A formal system of bird banding was developed in 1899, when Hans Mortensen, a Danish school teacher, began placing aluminum leg bands on ducks, white storks, starlings, and hawks. He inscribed the bands with his name and address, hoping that they would be returned to him if found. His system of banding became the model for our current efforts.
Banding at the Alaska Science Center began in the early 1960's and has remained a core component of our research activities throughout the state. All banding activities are permitted and monitored through a national program administered by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Bird Banding Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. The Bird Banding Laboratory determines which bands should be used, how banding studies are to be conducted, and responds to members of the public and scientific community who see a banded bird.
If you see a banded bird
If you see a banded bird or have additional questions about banding, call the banding hotline at 1-800-327-BAND or visit their website at: USGS Bird Banding Laboratory.
Please contact the Alaska Science Center Banding Coordinator, John Pearce for more information.
Each year, biologists with the Alaska Science Center mark nearly 3,000 birds of 50 different species with uniquely-coded metal or plastic leg bands or neck collars (Annual Banding Summaries). These markers provide valuable data for studies such as: mark-recapture analysis of annual survival, territoriality and behavioral ecology and migration.
To date, results from our banding program have been presented at numerous scientific and public meetings and have been published in a wide array of scientific journals. For more detailed information on the kinds of studies that use leg bands, search our publications page using words such as "banding", "productivity", or "survival" in the Abstract field. Additional information about specific projects can be accessed below under the Projects page.
Radio transmitters have been used in research studies over the last 10 years to gain additional information about avian biology that cannot be obtained with leg bands or other methods. For example, in 1996, biologists at the Alaska Science Center used surgically-implanted radio transmitters to locate the Bering Sea wintering area of the spectacled eider; a threatened species that nests in western and northern Alaska. Transmitters have also been used to study the lingering effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill on harlequin ducks in Prince William Sound, shorebird migration, and Spectacled Eider migration in the Bering Sea.