Friday Grey Matters: Why Are Pet Birds Banded?

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If you buy a parrot from a breeder in America, chances are it has a small metal ring around its leg. My African Grey, Pepper, also has one of these (I call it his "bling.") I'd never really given it a lot of thought, but have recently become curious as to why it is placed on a captive bird and what the code on it means.

A closed band appears to be a flat solid piece of metal wrapped around the bird's leg. It may have letters and numbers embossed in the surface. Most breeders eventually start banding the baby birds they raise. Banding is a good idea because it shows that the babies have been born in captivity. As countries, provinces, and even individual states in the U.S. become more restrictive at their borders and within their boundaries, banding is becoming all the more important. For example, in some parts of the U.S., it is illegal to buy or sell a bird that is not closed-banded (breeder banded). Open-banding refers to a band that can be placed on a bird at any age, and is usually used to study migration patterns in wild birds. Most captive birds with open bands were not domestically raised-they were caught in the jungles and imported as adults.

Another advantage to "banding" is that if the bird becomes lost, the unique code on the band can be traced to the breeder or to the owner. Many avian clubs keep track of the codes, so be sure to ask your breeder which club the band originated from in case you lose touch. Record your bird's code to help prove your ownership in case the bird escapes or is stolen. The letters on your bird's closed band may be traceable; that means that some organization has records showing who raised that particular bird. If the band includes the letters "NCS", "ACS", "ALB", "SPBE", or "AFA", these bands are traceable. Other codes may be private codes used by breeders to keep track of genetics or lineage.

Banding can only be accomplished during a short time of the baby bird's development. He has to be big enough, or the band will fall off. If he is too big, you won't get the band on over his foot. Banding is done about the time the baby's eyes open, which is around 11-13 days old, on average. Smaller birds develop faster and so need to be banded earlier than bigger birds. One toe is just gently pulled back and the band slid over it; when the bird walks/perches normally it should not be able to come off.

If you were sold a bird as a "baby" and it is wearing an open band, you may not have gotten what you thought you did. The codes on open bands only mean something to the USDA-unfortunately they will not tell much about your particular bird. Also, it could suggest that your "hand-raised" baby was actually illegally caught in its natural habitat. Don't buy parrots with an open band! Wild-trapping results in the deaths of many, many more birds than ever make it to their destinations. Thankfully, America and many other countries have cracked down on hte importation of wild-caught pet birds, and the domestic breeding industry has boomed as a result.

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I recently bought an african grey with an open band. This was before I saw your site waring not to buy a parrot with an open band. I purchased Taz from a local pet shop. They couldnt tell me how old he was. Is there any way to find out from the numbers on the band?

Hmm, an open band might mean a wild-caught bird. You should ask the pet shop directly where they bought the bird from, and what the numbers refer to. There are many private bird associations that give out open bands and keep track in their databases, but the only way you know what the number refers to is to ask the pet shop.

I also suggest you have your new pet taken to a vet pronto, and feather-tested. Take a feather (a new one that just fell out, from his wing) and send it to get tested for avian diseases and to get sexed. I suggest