Banding the Bird in the Hand


Yellow Warbler

Here is our Yellow Warbler from last post to tell us why birds are in the hand.

I have been involved in birding by joining the Buffalo Ornithological Society and attending the Buffalo Audubon Society events. Recently, the Audubon Society had a bird-banding seminar at their Beaver Meadows headquarters. I have seen bird-banding before, but not how they capture them.

Yellow Bird here. “I can tell you this is not pleasant for me. See what I and all my friends went through, all for the humans to get some data. Just take a look at some of the expressions on the faces of my buddies. If looks could kill…”


Little girl smiles with joy at holding the bird.

Both the BOS and the Buffalo Audubon have great learning experiences and nature walks. The kids especially love the up-close and personal look at nature.

Here we have a variety of Warblers getting caught and banded. Other birds as well, but the Warblers were new to me. Now I can recognize some of the Warblers since they don’t visit my garden. I do have a few posts coming up on birds that never visited before, so I guess a Warbler could pop in.


A Chestnut-sided Warbler not looking too happy.

There is not much to explain that is not obvious by the images, but I will be brief. If you get a chance to see bird-banding, take the opportunity. It is interesting in how and why they do the inspections. So let’s look at the process…


Netting the birds to be banded.

It starts with catching birds. In this poorly photographed iPhone image (because it started raining and the big camera went to my dry Jeep), numerous barely visible nets are set up along a 20 minute nature trail to snag the flying birds. I could not get a good photo also because we were instructed not get too close to avoid stressing the captured bird. They fight for freedom like the Chickadee below and care must be taken so they are not injured.

The trail is walked each hour to collect birds in soft sacks to bring back to the demonstration. I took a nature walk with one of the naturalists and he called in that birds were caught at net 7. Different handlers do different jobs. Only certain workers are permitted to free from the net or even handle a bird, yet I believe most of them could do each others jobs. There are just certain regulations governing and certificates held by each.


Chickadee caught in the net.

So back at the demonstration, the process began to ID, inspect, band, sex, and record each bird. Let’s look at a young robin.


Young robin molting.

The molt.


The handler getting prepared for banding.

The band.


Young robin getting an ID band.

Attaching the band.


Each bird is measured, inspected and weighed.

Measuring the leg growth length.


Measuring the Wing size.


Full inspection.


Wing inspection


After all the measurements are taken, they are recorded and sent on for cataloging.

Recording observations.


All done and ready for release.


Off you go now please.


Red-eyed Vireo

Not every bird is happy and looks to get revenge. Yes, some do peck at or try to take a chunk out of the handler.


Red-eyed Vireo release.

Some just can’t wait to escape.


“Hey, what do you expect? This is a real indignity getting stuffed in a bag and weighed by these guys”, loudly squawks Yellow Bird.


“Look at ’em, I have to say though, they are pretty gentle.”



“I am not so sure Yellow bird. These guys really had me topsy turvy.”


Ovenbird gets an inspection.

“Me too, and it is my second time.”


This poor Chestnut-sided Warbler got snagged twice in one day. Oh the luck of some birds. It gets a second inspection to make sure it suffered no injury during netting.


Now you know why it is grumpy.

Next two posts, I show you how I get my photos when the light is less than optimal. Then, some shots of the marsh birds, and a few gardens from Garden Walk Buffalo. So many posts just waiting for their turn.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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49 Responses to Banding the Bird in the Hand

  1. ginnietom says:

    great post and impressive images indeed
    …but I dislike treating birds that way, cause they are able to develop sudden heart attacks…have an aviary too and been member of different environmental organizations and animal welfare orgs – but sorry, we disliked it, to do for show 😦

  2. snowbird says:

    It’s interesting to see the process. You have some beautiful birds there. I get a little worried too that the birds may stress out, but they are hardier than they look, we have to handle injured birds at the rescue and I always amazed how well they survive handling. Thanks for visiting me. You have a lovely blog here.xxxx

    • I think the injured birds know they are being helped. I found an injured owl on the highway once. I stopped to retrieve it. I carry welding gloves in my Jeep just for this purpose. I did not have my pet carrier though which was really taking a chance with an owl. I carefully put the owl on the floor of the JEEP and draped it with a towel I did have. The vet was only three miles away and I all worked out well. The owl was fixed but could not return to the wild as the injury affected flight. It went to a place for bird rehabilitation to live out its life. I also saved a mallard duck (grazed by a car) from being eaten alive by crows. I brought it home and put it in the backyard, where it came out of shock and flew off on its own. I took the course on wildlife rehabilitation and passed, but never got into it because of time. I did it more for my own knowledge.

  3. Patrick says:

    Hey Donna,

    I think the missing piece of the story and would take additional time on your part is exactly what is the objective of the research? Also we need to know what information is collected, the sample size and what are the net benefits to the birds. Then your readers will be in a better position to determine for themselves if the treatment you document here is justified.

    Just a suggestion, my learned friend.

    • They collect and send the recorded measurements to the state to determine density and distribution of birds. It records health and looks at projected numbers of birds hatched each year. From the state, it is nationally compared. They check bird bands to see where and how far birds migrate and when they show up in areas around the country. Again they are checked for health. Some of the members follow my blog and if they can comment, it would be helpful. I thought this was basically known by most since it is an Audubon sponsored event. They band birds without the show too. I think for the science of the study it is warranted. After all, many of us check out the Audubon website to see first hand by their findings to what birds are in decline. I have reported on two so far myself by findings such as this. Hummingbird migration is recorded and it is charted. This allows bird enthusiasts like me to know when to place feeders, by first siting locations. I did not think bird banding would be controversial. It is very common and the hummingbirds are frequently seen in gardens banded.

      • Patrick says:

        Hey Donna,

        I think my comment might have been misconstrued a bit because I’m totally in support of such a programs. I was raising these issues for your commenters who were concerned about the program. Thanks for the complete picture but rest assured I’m been drinking the Kool Aid on thee types of programs for years. Thanks for such a complete answer.

        Just saw the tagging of a great white this week on the news. Use to be a Shark Week devotee when it first started. Saw a local pool has a huge movie screen where you can see Jaws while you’re swimming. Interest you, Donna?

  4. Pat says:

    It does look like a very stressful experience, but I suppose the resulting information is valuable to the continued health and success of the species.

  5. Sonja says:

    Fascinating report on this process and good photos too. It does give one pause to worry about their stress levels, but they look more mad than anything. And, I agree with you, I think animals and birds know the touch that is trying to help them. Sonja

  6. Really wonderful post. I should see if there is something similar going on around here. The photos are priceless. I have seen a yellow warbler in my garden, but generally warblers are not very visible.for me.

  7. A lot of work there!!! Thank you for showing us the process, Donna!
    Happy Sunday!

  8. alesiablogs says:

    Incredible detailed photos of this process. I think I would kill one of them by accident though….I don’t think I could do this, but the photos are so amazing.

  9. lucindalines says:

    Thanks for sharing this, and thank you for getting involved in this project. It is great that there is someone able to do these things. I always feel for the injured animals, but don’t know what to do. Too much, “survival of the fittest” attitude going on in our area.

    • Actually, I was just there to watch and photograph. I took the rehabilitator class in 1994, but before going into architecture, I was studying to be a vet and interned at a veterinarian’s office. I switched majors after we were forced to cut open live animals with no anesthesia in our lab work. I could not stand to cause them pain for NO REASON. This was an atrocity as far as I was concerned.

  10. amanda2600 says:

    the little birds Are so cute!!! but i would be afraid to do that… i don’t want to hurt the bird or them die on me (i would feel really bad so i just watch birds) but did i tell you that i have chicken a little bobwhite is acting little a chicken and it sleeps with them its so dam cute!!! i try to get a picture but bobwhite is way to fast… he is so cute but i dont know why he is staying with the chicken its so cute tho and i am happy that i get to watch him hang around the lillte chickens

    • Sounds adorable the chickens and the bobwhite. You can see though the little kids are handling the birds, but the handler is right there too.

      • amanda2600 says:

        The bobwhite and the little chicks are so cute!! but its sad because i have 3 little family of baby chicks… the first group is where bobwhite started but they all all turned to be boys but one girl… so i guess the girl didnt have much say…. then bobwhite is with the younger ones like elementary age…. but if they are all girls maybe bobwhite will stay with them but bobwhite still has one more chance… the baby baby chicks that are still with the mother but i hope bobwhite stays with us… its so cute how he talks to him…

  11. I did mist netting and banding of birds for an Earthwatch Expedition in Australia. The experienced scientists made getting the birds out of the nets look easy, but the process requires a lot of skill and practice. The birds go through a lot in the name of science.

    • I agree the birds go through quite a bit, but the data is critical to have for the people at places like Cornell. The people here got the birds out of the nets easily too. The netting stretches.

  12. I hope it doesn’t stress the birds too much. No wonder some birds peck their handlers because if I was a bird I’d try to fly away too.

  13. The photos of the entire process are really stunning…it is such encouragement to get involved.

  14. Oh, this was so fun! Thanks for taking us along! I could never do it myself because I wouldn’t trust my roughness, and I have a problem with sympathetic pain. But it’s fun to watch the experts!

    • It was fun to watch. Having my own bird makes seeing that understandable. They need the data for the research being done at various universities for instance. Finding out where birds travel tells scientists quite a bit.

  15. Oh this is too cool…I love warblers and see them at the nature center only

  16. That’s really neat how they catch and mark all of the birds. I never knew. I am sure the data they track helps out a lot with birding.

  17. A.M.B. says:

    It’s nice to see some of these birds up close, and it’s very interesting to see the process. I was wondering what the objective of the banding was, but I saw your responses to the earlier comments. Thanks for sharing!

  18. This post literally took my breath away. Your images are stellar. The chestnut sided warbler’s expression is truly priceless. The description of the capture, banding, weighing, etc was completely intriguing. The Ovenbird? Have never seen one, and I never knew he was that small. Great Great post !!

  19. Wow never knew that is how or why they did that work. I will just keep caring for the broods who love my place so they never see the team 🙂 lol Nice shots!

  20. What an excellent experience to share! I experienced bird banding last winter for the first time when I had the overwintering hummingbirds. These banders have lots of training and years of experience. Although it looks rough on the birds they are treated gently and with respect. Even so, it is a very stressful experience for them. Your photos are super! I was asked not to post photos of the capture process because they don’t want people to try to catch hummers (it is also illegal to do so) I suppose it is different with other birds.

    • I remember that you could not show the capture. In Costa Rica, they captured the hummers with big butterfly nets as they were feeding. This was a hummingbird observatory where they did science study on the birds. Honestly, if anyone did want to catch a hummer, it is not too hard by what I saw in Costa Rica. The ones at my house are pretty tame. One last year flew inside my powder room while I was shooting outside through the open window. They were like that in Costa Rica too, landing on my lens and head.

      I did not show the full net in the post because my iPhone could not capture that shot or I would have. There were nets maybe 20 feet long and 10 feet high all along this 20 min. walking trail. I went on the trail twice and the first time, no birds were captured. I don’t think people could replicate this though. The netting is very specific and not any would do because birds would readily see it. I saw a great video that Nat Geo did in the Amazon on netting birds. They had some huge nets too.

  21. Stephi says:

    I love the pictures and story that goes with it. Years ago I saw a banding event, very memorable. What an experience it must be to handle the birds. Seeing that is was at Beaver Meadows made me smile too. Brought me back many, many years when I used to be a volunteer docent with my mom there.

  22. Phil Lanoue says:

    That is truly remarkable!
    We worked with a bander of painted buntings for a little while. The first time you handle one it’s quite frightening. Always afraid to hurt one.

  23. sharonftaylor says:

    While at first it is alarming to see a bird caught in a net or in a tiny ‘tea bag’ to be weighed, I believe it is justified for the good of these gorgeous little guys!

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