51-Year-Old Albatross Breaks N. American Age Record

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Strike up the Band

Bird banding has been practiced for centuries. The first record of a metal band used on a bird, in 1595, is documented in history when one of King Henry IV's peregrine falcons took off in pursuit of a bustard in France. The falcon reappeared the next day in Malta, 1350 miles (2,173 kilometers) from where the bird was lost.

In the United States, John James Audubon may have been the first bird bander. He tied silver cords around the legs of a group of phoebes, and spotted two of the banded nestlings when they returned the next year.

Now, researchers use bird banding to track a range of avian activities. The bands can be used to determine the age of birds, like the Laysan albatross. Banding can also help scientists spot the migratory patterns of birds, learn more about bird behavior, and monitor how populations are doing.

"That's the way you learn what's going on with these things," said B.H. Powell, a wildlife biologist at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center who has spent many years banding waterfowl. To get an idea of what's going on in the bird world, it's not necessary to slap a band on every bird's leg, he said. Statistics help researchers estimate how a population is doing using the bands. "It's just like elections, when 3 percent of the population is reporting and you can tell who won," he said.

Patuxent Wildlife Research Center hosts the North American Bird Banding Program, a clearinghouse for bird banding information in the United States and Canada. Robbins, who has worked at the center for more than 50 years, started the Breeding Bird Survey from this site; now, volunteers across the country track birds at more than 3,000 locations.

The Breeding Bird Survey helped document the effect of DDT on birds and continues to provide information about population trends and non-native species.

More Bird Stories by National Geographic News:
Are Flashy Male Birds Threats to Their Own Species?
Wild and Escaped Parakeets Captivating City Dwellers
Bright Beaks Signal Health to Female Birds, Study Says
Coot Birds Can Count, Study Says
Falconry Used to Secure North American Airports
Cuckoos, Wrens in Escalating Evolutionary Arms Race
Deer Behind Britain's Great Bird Decline?
"Mysterious Plague" Spurs India Vulture Die-Off
Gamblers Fuel Trade in "Lucky" Vulture Heads in Africa
Ospreys Flock to Cuba, With Conservationists Close By
Sixth Great Backyard Bird Count Begins in U.S.
Bird Story: Black-Capped Vireo—Hope for Survival?
Four-Winged Dinosaurs Found in China, Experts Announce
Aggressive Seagulls Menacing Urban Britain
Satellites Help Reveal Secrets of Epic Goose Migration
Birds May Hold Clues to Role of Time in Teamwork
Mysterious Kenya Flamingo Die-Offs Tied to Toxins, Study Says
Quarter of U.S. Birds in Decline, Says Audubon
Farmers, Conservationists Seek Return of Barn Owls
Seasons of a Birder's Life
Do Some Birds Cheat to Avoid Inbreeding?
Water-Diversion Plan Threatens California's Salton Sea

National Geographic Bird Resources:
Bald Eagles: Come Back From the Brink
Experience the Sights and Sounds of Eagles
Snowy Owls—Muscle & Magic
Attwater's Prairie-Chickens—Down to a Handful

Recent "Birder's Journal" Stories from Robert Winkler:
Giving Thanks for Wild Turkey Sightings
Birder's Journal: Ghost Town's Curse Haunts New England Forest
Birder's Journal: Looking at a Handy New Guide
Birder's Journal: Learning to Let Birds Come to You
Birder's Journal: A Morning With Migrants
Birder's Journal: This Warbler Is a Master of Deception
Birder's Journal: Seduced by Dueling Thrushes
Birders Journal: Attack of the Flying Goshawk

Nationalgeographic.com Bird-Watching Sites:
Boston Area
Chicago Area
Florida Keys Area
Maine's Acadia National Park
Mount Rainier
New Orleans Area
New York City Area
North Carolina's Outer Banks
Philadelphia Area
Portland Area
Rocky Mountain National Park
Salt Lake City Area
San Francisco Area
Santa Fe Area
South Dakota's Black Hills
Washington's Olympic National Park
Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park
Yellowstone National Park
Yosemite National Park

From the National Geographic Store:
Guide to North American Birds
Portable Birdsong Identifier
Birder's Journal
Songbirds Puzzle

Additional Information from Related Web Sites:
American Bird Center
American Bird Conservancy
Fish and Wildlife Service Bird Web Site
National Audubon Society
Environmental Protection Agency: Bird Conservation

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