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How to Read a Bird Band— A Handy Guide

how to read a bird band

Bird leg bands contain codes that provide information about the species or its owner.

So if you ever found a bird with a leg band or have purchased an avian pet wearing it, you may be wondering about how to read a bird band.

This article will help you decode the bird bands’ imprinted code and discuss the origin of this identification method.

Specifically, you’ll discover how to read a bird band’s code:

  • In captive-bred parrots
  • Pigeons
  • Cockatiels

So, without further ado, let’s jump right into it!

reading bird's band

How to Read a Bird Band

Leg banding is a method used to determine the birds’ place of origin. It also contains information about their species and owners, which can be helpful when they’re quarantined or lost. 

Since banding is convenient, safe, and non-intrusive to birds, many breeders utilize this identification method.

There are two types of parrot leg bands: closed and open leg bands:

Closed Bird Leg Bands

When a parrot’s leg bands are closed, it indicates that it has been bred in captivity.

When the hatchling bird reaches adulthood, this band, an unbroken ring, is permanently attached to its little leg.

Many breeders use closed bands, but the downside is they can get tight as the bird grows into an adult and may need to be cut off.

The bird leg band information is limited because the codes or coding system may vary depending on the breeder or club. Therefore, closed bands in birds are challenging to track.

Open Leg Bands

An adult bird with an open band, a rounded split ring placed on its leg, had previously been held in an importation station. 

This reason for open banding is because it was imported before the importation prohibition as a wild-caught bird or it was brought in as a pet from another country and quarantined at the importation station. 

Since most importation stations are either USDA-owned or privately owned but supervised by USDA, only two coding systems are used, so they’re easier to track.

If you’re wondering how to decode and track them, join us as we dive deep into these coding systems.

How to Read a Bird Band with USDA Codes

The United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) usually uses stainless steel bands with imprinted codes like letters or numbers.

Additionally, the USDA oversees or manages most of the US import stations.

Therefore, birds bearing USDA letters on their bands have been through USDA quarantine facilities.

But how do you read a bird’s band from USDA?

These bands are like a passport for the birds to travel across the United States. So, these are the codes used in the bird leg band identification system of USDA:

  • “USDAN” stands for San Ysidro (San Diego), California
  • “USDANNY” means it’s from Newberg, New York
  • “USDAA” is for Los Angeles, California
  • “USDH” means it’s from Honolulu, Hawaii
  • “USDAB” stands for Brownsville, Texas
  • “USDAX” means it’s from Mission, Texas
  • “USDAM” stands for Miami, Florida
  • “USDAL” means the bird is from Laredo, Texas
  • “USDAE” stands for El Paso, Texas

How to Read a Bird Band From Privately Owned Import Stations

Private import stations allow for the entry of imported birds into the nation. These establishments have their own set of three letters and three digits. The first letter can be:

    • F – which stands for Florida down to Miami
    • C and O – for California down to Los Angeles (LAX)
    • M – for Michigan down to Detroit
    • I – for Illinois and across Chicago O’Hare
    • L – for Louisiana and across New Orleans (but it’s now closed)
    • N – for New York down to Jamaica (JFK)
    • T – for Texas down to Brownsville

In the United States, many import stations adopt domestic or wild birds from other countries. These facilities are the ones that decide if you can bring a bird to the US or not. 

Once you bring your pet bird, the USDA Animal Import Center will require your bird to have 30 days of quarantine. 

Then, they would transfer the birds to the nearby import quarantine facility from the airport.

The importer and his or her facilities are indicated by the second letter. Large-scale importers frequently employ multiple facilities and codes.

The third letter is a part of the unique ID code for the bird, which also consists of three digits.

Some of these Animal Import Centers of USDA are:

  • Miami Animal Import Center (MAIC) – located in Miami, Florida
  • New York Animal Import Center (NYAIC) – located in Jamaica, New York

This process ensures your bird is safe from any animal infections.

Reading Pigeon Bird’s Band

In the United States, many organizations use bands to distinguish the birds they care for.

But how to read a bird band of a pigeon?

Let’s try this code:


The first two letters, IF, refers to the International Federation organization. They are the ones who owned or bred the bird before it reached you. Then the corresponding number, 1234, refers to the unique serial number of the bird. 

While the SCHOLAR is the club’s code where it belongs within the organization, the number 06 refers to the pigeon’s year of birth.

Aside from International Federation (IF), there were many organizations for Pigeons in the US. Some of them are:

  • CU or CRPU – refers to the Canadian Pigeon Union
  • IPB – means Independents Pigeon Breeders
  • NPA – the National Pigeon Association
  • AU – it is the American Union Organization

If you see some codes like this, you can easily identify their origin. However, some bird leg band identification systems use color coding, not letters or numbers. 

Reading Cockatiel Bird’s Leg Band

There were no criteria for the information on the bands unless they were provided to the breeder by a parrot society like the American Federation of Aviculture (AFA). 

Because there isn’t a clear protocol to follow that has been codified, numerous breeders go about things in their ways.

Typically, some letters indicate the breeder’s state, which can serve as a good place to start your inquiry.

A privately owned station’s quarantine band will always start with three letters, followed by three digits, like CRO 123

The first letter identifies California as the state. The second letter identifies the station, while the third letter and the following numbers identify the bird.

tips on how to read a bird band

Reading Flags and Bird Bands in Arctic Migrants

Leg banding mostly has advantages in all bird species. The more birds get banded, the more information we can get, and the more we’ll know about them. 

Reading the bird’s band of the Arctic migrants is also interesting because they mostly have color bands.

So here are some ways how to read a bird ankle band of Arctic birds:

Color Banding

A few decades ago, the Scolopacidae (Sandpiper) family of birds, like Bar-tailed Godwits, Turnstones, and Red knots, were banded. They have unique colors on their feet.

Recently, this happened in New Zealand, but roughly two years ago, a project of a similar nature began in Northwestern Australia. 

Each combination consists of a flag, and four colors which are red, blue, white, and yellow, the national colors of New Zealand. 

Northwest Australia utilizes a yellow flag and the colors red, blue, yellow, and lime green.

You must be aware of each band and the position of the flag to identify the bird you have found. 

The flag can be placed above or below the knee but above the bands or in the middle of the bands. Color bands are read from the bird’s left to the right, from top to bottom. 

However, white bonds usually change color over time. So, if you’re uncertain about the color, it’s better to report it to experts in banding.

Most of the time, flag bands on the left leg are banded on the Island in the South. Then the other side was banded by the North Island.

This way of banding on Arctic migrants continued over many years in the Northwest part of Australia.


The flag banding of the Arctic migrants has been the largest program on the Flyway. 

You must check to determine if these birds are flying with one or two flags and what color they are.

And we’ll show where the bird’s band and flag were placed. 

Flags are often located on the bird’s upper leg (the tibia). Whenever there are two flags, they are both on the tibia, though occasionally, the second flag is placed on the lower leg (the tarsus). 

If you see a flag that looks familiar while you’re in England or South America, it probably means something else because other Flyways also have flagging programs.

So, if you’re uncertain what flag your bird is wearing on its leg, it would be helpful to consult the nearest bird’s banding organization in your area.

Over time, recorded banded birds in different countries will use this information to identify key stopover locations.

It can also calculate the travel between non-breeding sites and reveal the relationship between breeding and non-breeding places. 

The Origin of Using Bird Bands

There were records that the banding of birds was once used in ancient times in the early 218-201 BC.

During the Punic war, Romans used threads to send a message to their fellow soldiers. 

Counting the years after that, we can tell that it’s quite a long time since bird banding started. Only the method, the material used, and the purpose had changed.

In Migratory Birds

Among the first methods used by science to track migrant animals like avians were metal bird leg bands (Nebel 2010). 

Hans Christian C. Mortensen, a Danish biologist, initially utilized this technique in 1890, and it has since come to be known as banding (or ringing). 

Two starlings from Europe (Sturnus vulgaris) were given zinc bands. But he later noticed that their weight impacted how the starlings behaved and swapped to aluminum bands. 

And by 1906, a total of 1550 starlings Mortensen had banded throughout the following 15 years and a half. 

After that, Preuss (1989) said that bird banding was widely used in Europe, India, Australia, North America, and New Zealand by 1930. 

In Pets

Around 1595, bands were used to identify the bird’s owner in the middle ages. One example of it is the Peregrine Falcon which was owned by Henry IV.

Centennial passed, and between 1669, bird banding was improved for scientific purposes and up until now. 

When Duke Ferdinand fastened a silver ring on the leg of the grey heron in 1669, the habit of studying birds had already begun. 

The Duke’s grandson discovered this bird in 1728, which is recognized by its band. 

Even though this observation was made more than a century ago, modern scientists still similarly use bands to determine a bird’s age.

Early in the 1950s, when mist nets and cannon netting was used to catch shorebirds and waterfowl, bird banding underwent a revolution. 

As a result, there were significantly more recovered banded birds, notably among passerines. 

The European Union for Bird Ringing (EURING), established in the middle of the 1960s, is currently in charge of organizing all European bird-banding programs.

Why Do Birds Have Leg Bands?

As mentioned above, leg bands are used to identify the place of origin and the organization where it was banded and to keep track of them.

Most small birds, like parakeets, finches, and canaries, are banded with small plastic or aluminum. While those medium size birds mostly have either aluminum or steel.

When the new hatch bird reaches one week, it is the perfect time to band them because their feet can easily fit the rings.

Bird ring’s identification system for imported birds features three imprinted letters and numbers or USDA codes.

In corresponding with the Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992, open bird bands are legally imported to the United States.

Sometimes, an open band on the right leg often shows the male gender, while on the other side, a female.

Can Bird Leg Bands Become a Problem?

Leg bands often have advantages but also cause injuries on birds’ feet. When caught with a cage or toy, it can break, dislocate, cut, or sprain your bird’s feet.

And if bands are too small for them, it can stop the blood flow. Dead skin buildup is also prone to small birds, and as a result, it will become tight on them. 

If they are injured and got swollen in their leg, it may restrict the blood flow and damage its circulation. If it worsens, it can lead to hospitalization. 

So, it’s always important to check your bird’s band to see if they’re comfortable. Bring them to the nearest veterinary clinic if you notice something strange on their leg.

vet cutting off bird bands

Should I Remove My Bird’s Leg Band?

Some pet bird owners prefer to remove the band to avoid injuries. In contrast, breeders might continue banding to track their birds easily.

However, those imported birds from other countries really need bands for identification, especially for those threatened or endangered.

When you travel with your birds, especially across the United States, bird leg rings or bands are necessary to verify the place and the year they were born.

If your birds don’t have injuries or the bands were applied properly, and you don’t want to change the means to track them, you shouldn’t remove them.

And remember, don’t try to remove them by yourself. Bring them to your trusted avian vet to ensure your bird’s safety.

Other Bird Identification Alternatives to Leg Bands

In other countries like North America, small microchips are commonly used as an alternative to banding. These microchips (size like a rice grain) are planted to the bird’s breast muscle. 

All the information about the birds is recorded on the microchips by the microchips company.

It is an easy method because they only use scanning wands to read the information about the birds.

Injecting tattoos on birds is not widely known. Besides, it will fade over time.

Finding a unique pattern of the bird’s skin on the feet is also another way. However, there’s no database about this, so you cannot retrieve any information.

The other alternative is the “fingerprinting” of your bird’s genetic DNA. By taking a blood sample, you can record your bird’s information. 

It is the easiest way to establish the family bloodline of your birds. 

But, consult your vet first if you want to be more certain of what alternative would be best for your birds.

Other Organizations With Coding Systems

If you can’t identify and comprehend your bird’s coding system, or you’re wondering how to read a bird band that seems to come from different clubs and countries, try to contact the following organizations:

  • “ABS” or the American Budgerigar Society
  • “ACS” or American Cockatiel Society
  • “ALBS” or African Lovebird Society
  • “ASC” which stands for American Singers Club
  • “IFC” or International Fife Club
  • “NCA” or National Colorbred Association
  • “NCS” or National Cockatiel Society
  • “NFSS” or National Finch & Softbill Society
  • “SPBE” or Society of Parrot Breeders and Exhibitors

Frequently Asked Questions About Bird Bands

We’ve already discussed how to read a bird band, but if these questions bother you, you may find these answers helpful.

Can you look up bird band numbers?

You may look up the band number with the online database for parrot breeders. But unfortunately, not all breeders register their birds using online databases.

You may also contact local parrot organizations if you can’t find any data about your bird’s band. 

What do I do if I find a banded bird?

You may report the band to the USGS Bird Banding Laboratory’s band reporting website. You can remove the band if the bird is dead and continue reporting the sighting or encounter.

But if the bird is still alive and healthy, take note of the band number and details, then release the bird.

What does the band on my parrot mean?

Bird bands are used to identify and track birds; in parrots, it indicates that it has been captive bred.

The code meaning may vary depending on the location and organization who banded the bird.

Should I take the band off my bird?

Don’t remove your bird’s leg band alone at home because birds’ legs are fragile.

We recommend leaving the job to professional avian vets because they may need to sedate your bird safely to get rid of the band. 

What are some of the risks associated with using leg bands on birds?

Leg bands may get caught up with bird cage toys and parts, resulting in breaks, cuts, dislocation, and sprain.

Those that are too tight on the legs can also cause blood flow constriction, while small birds may develop dead skin between their legs and the band, causing it to become too tight in the long run.

The leg band on my bird has become too tight; what should I do?

You should take your bird to the nearest avian veterinarian near you if the leg band has become too tight.

Otherwise, it may obstruct blood flow and risk your bird’s life.

How can I remove a leg band from a bird?

Vets usually sedate the birds with general anesthetic before cutting the bands off.

So, it should not be done at home or DIY-ed because you might hurt your bird and traumatize your pet if you’d operate without sedation.

bird leg bands

Final Tips on How to Read Bird Bands

The key to how to read a bird band is determining whether it’s a closed or open band first, then dissecting the codes.

Open bands are easier to decode and track since they’re mostly produced by USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), while closed bands come from different clubs and organizations with different coding systems.

In that case, try to contact the local avian owners’ organizations near you.

And that’s a wrap of our guide!

We hope this guide on how to read a bird band is helpful to you.

But it’s worth noting that even though leg bands may contain information about you as an owner and your bird’s species, they can’t help you reunite with your avian pet when it gets lost.

The codes wouldn’t make sense to those unaware of different code systems.

READ NEXT: What To Do If Your Bird Flies Away – 5 Tips to Find Lost Birds

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