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July 7, 2021

Many North American migratory bird species travel from North America to Central and South America during their yearly migrations. Therefore, studying birds in a coordinated fashion across borders is critical, making the USGS Bird Banding Laboratory’s partnership with the Bird Banding Office in Canada vital in managing the North American Bird Banding Program.

A woman stands outside, holding a live bird of prey, wearing a metal leg band, in her hands.
Veronique Drolet-Gratton, Bird Banding Program Officer, safely restrains a recently banded Red-Tailed Hawk before release in Fisherville, Ontario.  (Courtesy: Brett Fried)

In 1923, Canada collaborated with the United States to create the North American Bird Banding Program. Since then, the Canadian Bird Banding Office, Canadian Wildlife Service, and Environment and Climate Change Canada have worked collaboratively with the USGS Bird Banding Laboratory on all aspects of the program. While initially focused on understanding gamebird movement and managing a sustainable harvest, in subsequent decades, researchers recognized the value of banding as a conservation tool for other bird groups. The banding program continues to evolve with the needs of the program users.

In Canada, the Migratory Birds Convention Act and associated regulations protect migratory birds. More than 50 species are also protected by the federal Species at Risk Act. The Bird Banding Office supports migratory bird research in Canada by issuing permits to researchers for the otherwise prohibited activities of capture, banding, marking and collection of biological samples from protected species.  In conjunction with the USGS Bird Banding Lab, we issue federal bird bands in the appropriate sizes and types, coordinate auxiliary marker use, manage permit policy, provide data management support, and promote permit and program compliance.

During the last decade, we have seen a proliferation in the development and use of various electronic markers on essentially all bird species and an increase in requests to collect biological samples, such as blood or feathers, from birds in the hand. This is an exciting time as innovative devices and analytical techniques have allowed greater understanding of bird behavior, taxonomic relationships, and movement throughout bird lifecycles and ranges. Despite these important advances, the skills of bird capture, handling, banding, ageing, sexing and morphometric data collection remain fundamental to ornithological research. Bird safety and high data quality are cornerstones of our program and essential for the scientific integrity of results, providing confidence in evidence-based decision-making for conservation and management purposes.

Data quality is directly influenced by the level of training. The most common reason permits are denied is lack of training and experience. High data quality requires data to be collected by qualified individuals according to established standards and transcribed into our database following the prescribed coding system to maintain the integrity of the banding database. At the Bird Banding Office, we set standards for required training and work with permit holders to reduce and correct errors and ensure quality control of data.

Canada is part of a global scientific and open-government movement to broaden access to data and ensure transparency and accountability. To support data preservation and accessibility, as of January 1, 2021, the Bird Banding Office requires all tracking data collected using an electronic device such as a geolocator or transmitter, be submitted to an appropriate long-term data repository. These important data can then be made available for future analysis and continue to contribute to bird conservation well beyond their original intended use.

As a founding member of the North American Banding Council, the Bird Banding Office recognizes that expertise resides with scientists and other experts who work regularly with wild birds. We strive to capture this expertise in meaningful ways such as contributing to the development of training manuals, guideline documents and bander certification processes. These establish a baseline for ethical and scientific standards for use of birds in science in Canada, the United States and increasingly, the Western Hemisphere. Together with our partners we continue to develop science-informed standards which incorporate values, expert opinion, strategies to reduce harm while promoting animal wellbeing and high-quality data.  This helps to clarify the regulatory expectation for applicants and permit holders as well as create competency for how wild birds are used in science.

As we enter a new decade, we will continue to work collaboratively with the USGS Bird Banding Lab and Mexico on the North American Bird Banding Program in addition to providing banders with a high quality of service. Our shared efforts to update Piranga, a digital resource for ageing and sexing birds, and the continued development of the Bander Portal are examples of our efforts to improve program services and actively engage banders. We are excited about the progress we have made to date and see a very exciting future for bird banding and marking in North America!

Please visit our website for more information about the Canadian Bird Banding Program, our Google drive to access our Guidelines, FAQs and SOPs, our Memo to Banders and Forms or contact us at Nos services et documents sont également offerts en français

A group of 17 people wearing field clothes and holding outdoor equipment pose for a photo on an overcast shore.
Bird Banding Biologist Lesley Howes (middle row, right) poses for a group photo while attending a shorebird banding workshop and certification in Bay of Fundy, New Burnswick, CA.  (Credit: Lesley Howes, Bird Banding Office, Canada. Public domain.)