Observed birds with banding - Swainson's Hawks

Occasionally I capture an image of a bird that has been banded, sometimes with enough clarity to decipher a digit or two, but never a complete code. Mostly Swainson’s Hawks, and occasionally a Mountain Blue Bird.

Recently I observed a banded Swainson’s Hawk at a location where I recalled having observed a banded Swainson’s Hawk last year. Looking at the two images, it seems - to my inexpert, human eye - like they are the same bird.

August 2022: inaturalist.ca/observations/130432605

July 2023: inaturalist.ca/observations/172866289

That got me wondering if these observations have any value for the person(s) who are banding these birds, whether the band id is partially decipherable or not. Does iNat have info on banding programs?


In the US, the National Bird Banding Laboratory maintains records for every bird banded in the US. The website is here: https://www.usgs.gov/labs/bird-banding-laboratory

With only partial data, I don’t know how much they will be able to tell you, but they may be able to tell you who’s been banding Swainson’s Hawks in California. Having said that – a lot of hawks are banded during migration, which would make the link between your location and the bander rather tenuous.


I appreciate receiving photos of “my” banded birds. This happens irregularly regularly. I just got one of a Purple Martin, ~20 miles (~30km) from where I banded it. I know this b/c I only band nestlings and this is a sub-adult and it has a red color band (I’m the only one around here using a red color band). I can see 3 prefix numbers, and 2 in the suffix. With these, and having my list of the nestlings I banded last year, I should be able to figure out which gourd it was in. I band at two sites and minimally I’ll know which site b/c I switch feet for the one color band.

I also tag some songbirds in my backyard, some with colors, some without. In 2018 some of my teen helpers banded 5 White-throated sparrows, among other species. Over the years, at least 2 White-throated sparrows would show up each winter, with bands. I got enough photographs to see the prefix (so then I know it’s one of mine) and finally the last two digits so then I knew which bird (didn’t matter; we did 5 on the same day but it was still fun to confirm "ah ha! #17, the last of the 5 that day).

What’s really fun for me was seeing one of them this past winter, which is now 5 years later. I got photos just to confirm it was one of the 5 (it was). We know this about birds already but still it’s fun to experience it in my yard and with photos. Plus, the two teens who did the banding for me that day keep in touch and each winter I can tell them that “Their sparrows” are still coming back to the yard.

All to say, if you can get a few angles that show a few numbers, we banders can often figure it out. And then we can submit those to the BBL (bird banding laboratory) where all the data are stored (they take these as “recaptures” and will add them to the database). If you submit such a report, they will match the species/location with folks who are authorized to do that work and send them your report.

I co-led a project years ago to band, with colors, many Painted Buntings in NC/SC. We did 1000’s in a 10 year period. I still get some photos of a few birds still alive and I can tell by the color combination who they are. The people who photograph these birds (usually FL but sometimes odd winter reports to the north), send them to the BBL. The BBL then sends to me. I tell them “who” the bird is, (both the photographer and the BBL), and the BBL adds that to their database; another “recapture”.


There are some projects for banded birds on iNaturalist. You could join one or more of these and add your observations, and it increases the chances that someone will be able to help identify where your bird was banded:


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