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Open-File Report 2013–1238

The U.S. Geological Survey Bird Banding Laboratory: An Integrated Scientific Program Supporting Research and Conservation of North American Birds

By Gregory J. Smith

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (3 MB)Abstract

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL) was established in 1920 after ratification of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act with the United Kingdom in 1918. During World War II, the BBL was moved from Washington, D.C., to what is now the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (PWRC). The BBL issues permits and bands to permittees to band birds, records bird band recoveries or encounters primarily through telephone and Internet reporting, and manages more than 72 million banding records and more than 4.5 million records of encounters using state-of-the-art technologies. Moreover, the BBL also issues bands and manages banding and encounter data for the Canadian Bird Banding Office (BBO). Each year approximately 1 million bands are shipped from the BBL to banders in the United States and Canada, and nearly 100,000 encounter reports are entered into the BBL systems. Banding data are essential for regulatory programs, especially migratory waterfowl harvest regulations.

The USGS BBL works closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to develop regulations for the capture, handling, banding, and marking of birds. These regulations are published in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). In 2006, the BBL and the USFWS Division of Migratory Bird Management (DMBM) began a comprehensive revision of the banding regulations.

The bird banding community has three major constituencies: Federal and State agency personnel involved in the management and conservation of bird populations that include the Flyway Councils, ornithological research scientists, and avocational banders.

With increased demand for banding activities and relatively constant funding, a Federal Advisory Committee (Committee) was chartered and reviewed the BBL program in 2005. The final report of the Committee included six major goals and 58 specific recommendations, 47 of which have been addressed by the BBL. Specifically, the Committee recommended the BBL continue to support science, conservation, and management of birds through the use of banding and banding data and that the BBL be managed by the USGS and located at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (PWRC) in Laurel, Maryland. Recommendations that have not been implemented include those already addressed by other organizations, as well as lower priority, such as developing a BBL business plan.

The comprehensive review and recommendations of the Committee, the response of the BBL to address the Committee’s recommendations, and other improvements to its operations have positioned the BBL to provide a high level of service to the banding community. As new technologies are developed and incorporated into BBL operations, further efficiencies are expected to enable the BBL to continue to meet emerging scientific needs.

First posted September 26, 2013

For additional information contact:
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
U.S. Geological Survey
12100 Beech Forest Rd, Suite 4039
Laurel, MD 20708

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Suggested citation:

Smith, G.J., 2013, The U.S. Geological Survey Bird Banding Laboratory: An integrated scientific program supporting research and conservation of North American birds: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2013–1238, 88 p.,




Bird Banding Laboratory Stakeholders

Recent Bird Banding Laboratory Advancements and U.S. Geological Survey Investments


Appendix 1. Summary of Bird Banding Laboratory Activities in Response to the Recommendations of the Federal Advisory Committee Act Report

Appendix 2. Scientific Publications Supported by Bird Banding Efforts

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