Even if an
unsqueamish boy scout working for a nature study badge finds a banded sparrow,
all he will see on the outside of the small band is the number. The laconic
notation "F & W Serv Wash USA" is hidden on the inside of the band.
If it is to be read the band must be opened with a scout knife or small
screwdriver and flattened. Even then it may not be understood. How many small
birds with bands are thrown away because the finders do not understand the
system is anybody's guess. The wastage is frustrating, because although 8% of
all banded birds are recovered (shot or re-trapped), the rate is only one-tenth
of 1% for the smallest songbirds; it rises with the size of both bird and band.
The number has to be on the outside because only thus can retrapped birds be
identified and their movements recorded, without injuring them. Wanted: a way
to get all the necessary information, in legible form, on the outside of the
band used for the smallest chickadees, warblers and finches—only 5 millimeters
long and 9 millimeters around—about as big as the head of a kitchen match.
(Even this is too big for hummingbirds. Their bands have to be cut down, in
both dimensions, which destroys part of the number and inscription. Not
surprisingly, there have been no recoveries of hummingbirds except those
retrapped at their original banding station.)
Though some hawks
and even a few ducks peck and pull at their bands, most birds do not seem to
object to their ID tags. Some sport an array like costume jewelry, because for
special projects the FWS authorizes the use of additional bands made of colored
plastic. These make it possible to single out birds hatched in a particular
year, or having some other characteristic in common, from a local population
without need for retrapping.
variously and sometimes unpredictably to the shock of being held in the hand to
be banded. That little chunk of Christmas cheer, the chickadee, fights with the
ferocity of a scalded wildcat. The gentle, sibilant song sparrow is almost as
combative. The evening grosbeak can draw blood with the big bill for which it
is named; so can the cardinal. An occasional blue jay will set up a piercing
scream like the concentrated cry of all the Sabine women—and attract feathered
curiosity seekers from a quarter mile around to see what atrocity is being
perpetrated. Most birds calm down if they are kept on their backs during
banding: the unnatural position disorients them so that they sometimes forget
to fly when the bander's hand is opened, and they have to be nudged into making
their getaway. Crow-sized or bigger birds are best handled by two people, one
to hold the bird and the other to apply the band. A few kinds are downright
dangerous: large owls and some hawks because of their talons, and herons, which
tend to aim their daggerlike bills at their captors' eyes.
trapped, twice shy" is far from the rule. In practically any species, some
birds become trap-happy and keep getting themselves caught because they cannot
resist a free lunch. Others of the same species, for no known reason, become
uncannily skillful at picking up feed from around the traps, and manage never
to get caught.
amateur alike, banders love to get together at the annual meetings of their
regional associations. They listen to learned papers on the statistical
analysis of recoveries and returns, sitting on the edge of their chairs when
somebody describes a new gimmick. (One of the latest: hi-fi tape recordings of
squealing rodents to attract the birds which prey on them.)
talk about how they got into the sport, and why. No bander has expressed the
motivation better than the famous British bander Ronald Lockley: "In the
ringing of birds the ineradicable hunting and collecting instincts of man are
satisfied in an entirely innocuous manner: there is something of the primitive
excitement of the chase experienced in the ringer's efforts to trap or snare
his quarry; there is none of the unpleasantness of killing, but all the
delights of examining a wild bird in the hand, and releasing it afterwards with
its message of identity."
FOR THE GENERAL
satisfaction that all banders want is to increase the proportion of bands sent
in to the FWS, instead of their being discarded out of ignorance or by design.
Some paranoid gunners deliberately throw away waterfowl bands, fearing that the
FWS will use the data to find excuses for shortening seasons or reducing bag
limits. That is far from the program's purpose. While temporary cutbacks may be
dictated in a poor duck year, the ultimate goal is conservation in its broadest
sense. Allen J. Duvall, head of the Bird Banding Office, puts it thus: "We
want to conserve all wildlife, even though the balance of nature does change.
With waterfowl and other game species, the annual harvesting of a replaceable
crop is an essential element in the conservation picture. We don't want to
spoil anybody's legitimate sport. What we want to do is to make sure that there
will be enough birds of all kinds, including game species for the gunner, for
our kids and our kids' kids."