It’s Kind of a Curse, Actually

A surprising number of the birds WC has photographed turn out to be banded or tagged. “Wearing jewelry,” as one of WC’s birding buddies put it. It’s kind of a joke with Mrs. WC.

Galapagos Hawk, Floreana Island, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, banded on right leg.

Galapagos Hawk, Floreana Island, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, banded on right leg.

This was in 2002 when WC was just considering taking up bird photography, influenced by the three nature photographers in our tour group. The photo was taken with a very early digital camera, not even a digital single lens reflex camera.

Thoroughly banded Ruddy Turnstone, Tobago

Thoroughly banded Ruddy Turnstone, Tobago

In 2005, WC was in Trinidad & Tobago. The second part of the trip, at Cuffie River Nature Retreat, Tobago Island, we made a day trip to the beach where WC was able to photograph a Ruddy Turnstone, which, it turned out, was wearing at least four bands.

Red Knot

In 2006, it was the east coast of Florida, where WC found a flock of foraging Red Knots. And, yep, one was color banded.

Silver-beaked Tanager Female

Silver-beaked Tanager

In 2011, WC found a pair of Silver-beaked Tanagers, male and female, both banded, in extreme southern Ecuador. These are sequential photographs; the only time in 16 years of photographing birds that WC has shot two different banded birds on two consecutive shutter-clicks.

Cassia Crossbill, South Hills, Idaho

Cassia Crossbill, South Hills, Idaho

In 2016, WC went to the South Hills to photograph North America’s then newest bird species – and Idaho’s only endemic species – the Cassia Crossbill. And it was banded. Which was actually helpful in this case, because it’s tough to tell a Cassia Crossbill from a Red Crossbill, except by song, and this guy wan’t singing.

California Condor, Pinnacles National Park, California

California Condor, Pinnacles National Park, California

WC has written earlier about his 2018 encounter with a small flock of California Condors in Pinnacles National Park. And, like essentially every California Condor in the wild, it was wing-tagged.

American White Pelican

Most recently, this fall WC was at Hagerman Wildlife Management Area, up the Snake River from Boise. There were a few lingering American White Pelicans. And one of them was wing-tagged.

The thing is, most of the time WC doesn’t notice the tags or bands when he is taking the photos. It’s only back with the image on a computer screen that the tags and bands get noticed.

WC has photographed about 18 different species of banded birds on three continents. What are the odds?

Well, according to the Bird Banding Lab, part of the U.S. Geological Service, about 60 million birds representing hundreds of species have been banded in North America since 1904. About 4 million bands have been recovered and reported. And while 60 million sounds like a lot of bands, in the Western Hemisphere alone there are estimated to be between 100 and 200 billion birds. Assuming that as many as 10% of the 60 million banded birds are still alive, that’s 6 one-thousandths of one percent of the birds out there that are banded. It’s a statistical blip.

Yet 1.53% of the total species WC has photographed are banded.

So why do they keep turning up in WC’s viewfinder?


One thought on “It’s Kind of a Curse, Actually

  1. Bird TLC has been banding raptors they release back into the wild for about 5 years now. Only one bird has returned to the clinic that was banded. We do get birds in that have been banded by others and report it.

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