Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

Bird banding bonanza

Of all the activities I’ve participated in during my 20 years with the DWR, I would have to say that banding birds is my favorite. Banding often requires 24 hours of straight work, but it is such a rush, that you just don’t notice the lack of sleep or food!

The “where, when, why and how” of bird migration is often answered by tracking their movements through banding and collaring. It is exciting to see birds with leg bands or neck collars because these tools provide a snapshot look at the birds’ lives and incredible journeys.

In the late winter of 2009, I captured some video of a rare visitor to Utah — a drake Eurasian wigeon that was traveling with a small group of American wigeons. It was fun to see them feeding side by side and to contrast the iridescent green on the head of the American wigeon to the rich russet color of the Eurasian wigeon. Both species had the characteristic buff-colored patch on the tops of their heads.

But the really amazing thing was that while editing the video, I saw a flash of silver on the leg of the Eurasian wigeon. Although it was too far away to read the band, I was still excited to see that the bird was banded.

Migratory birds that travel above the Arctic Circle will occasionally travel from the eastern to western hemisphere — and vice versa. Was this the case for the Eurasian drake? Or did he escape from a zoo or another collection? The fact that he was traveling with other wigeons lead me to believe that he was a wild bird with a wild traveling story!

Then, that same week, an adult tundra swan came with a small family group and fed on pondweed in a pond near my home. It was wearing a blue collar with white letters and numbers.

DWR biologists hold two banded tundra swans.

This year, I also helped to capture and band the snow geese that were moving through the agricultural areas of Box Elder County. It was an incredible experience — almost like touching a small piece of Arctic wilderness — and it’s certainly a project I want to help with again next year.