Why band birds and bats?
Attached band on Bird
The next time you see a bird, ask yourself these questions:
- How many of that type of bird are there?
- Where does it live?
- Does it mate for life?
- How old is it and how long might it live?
- How many eggs will it lay during its life? (if it is female!)
- Does it fly far away from here?
- Where will it go?
- Where does it feed?
The answers to these questions are important to conserving our native birds, and the places where they live. Researchers who look for those answers often need to be able to recognise individual birds or groups of birds. One way is to attach bands or tags to the birds.
Researchers who use bands to study birds are called 'banders' . The Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme (ABBBS) helps this research by supplying numbered metal bands to banders. These bands are usually fitted around the bird's lower leg (or tarsus).
Each band is stamped with a different number and the ABBBS address. Since the banding scheme was started, over 2.6 million birds and bats have been banded and about 140,000 of these have been recaptured.
The role of the ABBBS is to:
- help with training banders to use bands properly
- advise on how best to collect and use banding information
- store information about what birds have been banded
- let banders know where and when their bands are found
- arrange the design and manufacture of bands
- supply bands and other equipment to banders.
Banding and recoveries
Like all research, a banding project starts with a question the bander wants to answer. The ABBBS can help banders decide how to collect the right information to answer their question. Bands are sent to the banders and their work begins. As time goes by, banders send the ABBBS information about where, when and what types of birds their bands were put on. The ABBBS records that information on computer. If one of those birds is caught again, the ABBBS can calculate the minimum distance it has travelled (of course, the bird may have travelled much further before being recaptured). The ABBBS then sends a letter to both the bander and the finder, telling them of the bird's history. Most parts of Australia are sparsely populated, so in most cases banders recapture birds which they themselves have banded. But sometimes banders catch a bird with someone else's band on it, and occasionally members of the public discover bands on injured or dead birds. When these recoveries are reported to the ABBBS, the information is passed on to the bander who banded the bird.
Do we have to use bands on birds and bats?
It is not always necessary to use bands to perform research on birds and bats. Sometimes there are other alternatives to using bands, including radio tracking and dyes. Occasionally it is not possible to use bands at all on some species, as the bands can irritate and injure the birds and bats. Some of the problems have become so serious that the ABBBS now restricts new banding projects that involve certain species of microbats. The details of this restriction are given below.
Moratorium on new microbat projects
In the process of revising the recommended band sizes for all Australian bat species we have found that the bands used on a number of Microchiropteran species are causing high rates of band injury. Based on these injury rates we are not prepared to approve any new permits for the banding of Microchiropteran bats and are, in fact, considering a moratorium on the banding of all members of the families Vespertilionidae, Emballonuridae and Molossidae.
For a number of species we have firm data indicating that serious band injury rates exceed 5%. We have little data on injury rates for other species but, based on information available on related species, we believe we should apply the 'precautionary principle' at this stage.
We feel that in the interests of bat welfare it would not be appropriate for us to continue allowing the use of bands on susceptible species. We are currently investigating some alternative methods of marking bats, including the use of Passive Induction Transponders (PITs).
We appreciate that this decision may significantly affect some research proposals and regret that we have had to make such a decision. We would be happy to consider any modifications to existing marking and banding techniques which might permit us to reconsider the situation. If anyone can suggest alternative methods of marking microchiropteran bats we would be happy to hear from you.