Leg Bands & Record Keeping

Leg Bands There are a variety of methods in use for banding (or "ringing") birds and keeping records on individuals within a collection. This article will describe the methods I have chosen, their uses and limitations, and provide resources for attaining finch leg bands as well as some alternate banding and record keeping methods.

Applying a closed leg band

About Leg Bands

Applying leg bands is a simple method of identifying individual birds. In certain cases, leg bands may be used to prove ownership and/or suggest that a bird is captive bred and not wild-caught. In fact, it is for this latter reason that some birds must be closed banded in order to be legally owned. For the purposes of this article, however, leg bands are used primarily as a means of identification of an individual for the purposes of accurate record keeping as well as to assist with setting up breeding pairs.

Please know that leg bands are not necessarily harmless and that they can pose a health risk--the band can potentially become entrapped in the enclosure's wire or accessories, contributing to injury of the bird (such as bruising, cuts, and fractures) and possibly death.5 Additionally, if the bird is malnourished or suffering from scaly leg mites, a constrictive ring of keratin (desquamated skin) can form between the band and the leg; if this occurs, it is possible for the blood supply to the foot to be compromised, leading to necrosis.5 If the band is metal, there is even a possibility of it contributing to frost bite in birds housed outdoors in cold climates.5

Choosing bands which are appropriately sized, applying the band(s) correctly, and keeping your birds in good health will help to minimize these risks.

A variety of leg bands are available for finches. Bands can be made of metal or plastic, can be "open"/"split" or "closed" in design, can come in a variety of colors and color-combinations, and may be engraved with numbers, initials, or both.

The National Finch and Softbill Society, for instance, provides members with several sizes of closed, metal leg bands which are color coded by year and engraved NFSS closed leg bandswith the initials "NFS" and a unique number. Closed bands can only be applied to neonates during a specific time in their development when they are small enough for the band to be slipped over the foot, yet large enough so that the band does not slip back off. The disadvantages of using closed bands is that their application requires disrupting breeding birds by removing the chicks from the nest, and that the bands are more difficult to remove should they pose a problem later.

"Open" or "split" bands have a slit in the ring which allows the band to be opened and applied to the leg. They can therefore be applied to older birds and do not require placement on a neonate during a specific developmental time frame. Split bands are available in both plastic and aluminum. Application of aluminum split bands can be very risky because the band must be clamped in order to be closed; if the two ends of the ring are not perfectly aligned Applying a split leg bandduring this process, it becomes very easy to clamp the band completely down on the finch's leg, causing severe injury. I therefore recommend NEVER using split aluminum bands. Split plastic bands are much easier and safer to apply, and come in a variety of colors (solid and striped) and may be numbered. These bands are easier to remove if they cause a bird trouble, but they are also more prone to getting caught in cage wire/accessories as they have the small slit in the ring.

Sources of Leg Bands

Applying Leg Bands

Closed Banding Chicks

Chicks should be closed banded when they are still in the nest. Their size at the time of banding dictates the best time to apply the band; they should be small enough for the band to slip over the foot onto the leg without too much difficulty, but they should also be large enough so that the band does not slip off on its own. Usually chicks are at the right size around 9-12 days of age. The chick being banded in this series of pictures is a 9 day old gouldian chick. Always wash your hands before handling chicks, and always handle chicks with care!

1. Applying a closed leg band 2. Applying a closed leg band

  • Step 1. Obtain a gentle hold on the neonate's leg; you should never hold the leg by the toes nor pull on the toes; also be careful not to rotate the leg in any unnatural direction as you are maintaining your hold on it in order to avoid injury to the joints. As you are handling the chick, do not compress its body as this may inhibit breathing. Apply a small amount of nontoxic water-based lubricant (e.g. KY Jelly) to the chick's foot.
  • Step 2. Carefully place all three of the forward-pointing toes (digits numbered 2, 3, & 4) through the closed band.

3. Applying a closed leg band 4. Applying a closed leg band

  • Step 3. Gently slide the ring over all three forward-pointing toes. If the band will not readily slide over the forward three lubricated toes, the chick may already be too large to close band, and you should not force it.
  • Step 4. If you do not encounter resistance, slide the band over the backward-pointing toe (hallux, hind toe, or digit #1).

5. Applying a closed leg band 6. Applying a closed leg band

  • Step 5. If the band will not slide completely over the hind toe, the toe will need to be gently freed from inside the ring.
  • Step 6. If it is safe to do so, use a thin but blunt object (such as a dull toothpick) to gently pry the toe out. Do not force the toe! If the toe cannot be freed with gentle prying, you may need to remove the band and try again in a day or two after the chick has grown a little more (as the chick grows, it may be easier to slide the ring past the hind toe and onto the leg). Do not wait too long or the chick may be too large to close band.

7. Applying a closed leg band 8. Applying a closed leg band

  • Step 7. Check the leg and toes for injury and make sure you have recorded the number of the band and any other pertinent information about the chick.
  • Step 8. When banding is complete, the ring should rest on the lower leg (tarsometatarsus) between the foot and the joint above the foot, as pictured here. The baby may be returned to its nest. You will need to recheck the banded babies in a day or two to see if any of the rings have fallen off or if any injuries have developed related to the band (see below). If the ring did fall off and the chick is not too large, the band may be reapplied.

Closed band injury Closed band injury

The photos above demonstrate a typical banding injury. This chick was banded 2 days prior, and during the banding re-check (to see if any bands had fallen off), this injury was noted. It appears that the band had chaffed or scratched the top of the hind toe and caused some very minor bleeding. The band was checked for sharp edges but none could be detected. Because the bleeding had stopped, the injury seemed minor with no signs of infection, and the chick was otherwise acting healthy and alert, the injury was left alone and the chick was replaced in the nest with instructions to check the chick again each morning to assess healing.

Closed band injury healing Closed band injury healing

This is the appearance of the injury after 3 days with no treatment administered. These photos are a good example of the normal healing process for injuries of this nature: a "scab" can be seen covering the scrape on the hind toe; it appears uninfected. The chick was still vigorous and seemed unaffected by the healing injury. The chick suffered no complications related to the injury and healed normally. No further injuries occurred related to the closed band. Split band applicators

Open Banding

In the following series of photos, the finch's leg is represented by the small metal rod which normally holds split bands. The band should be placed on the lower leg between the foot and the joint above the foot. Finches may be open banded as adults. The photo to the right shows two different designs of split band applicators.

1. Applying a split leg band 2. Applying a split leg band

  • Step 1. Slide the split band onto the band applicator with the slit facing upwards, forcing the slit to open up until it is large enough for the bird's leg to fit through it.
  • Step 2. Obtain a gentle hold on the finch's leg; you should never hold the leg by the toes; also be careful not to rotate the leg in any unnatural direction as you are maintaining your hold on it in order to avoid injury to the joints. As you are handling the bird, do not compress its body as this may inhibit breathing. Place the lower leg down through the open slit of the band until the leg rests on the metal applicator. The band should be located between the foot and the joint above the foot.

3. Applying a split leg band 4. Applying a split leg band

  • Step 3. While holding the band in place on the lower leg, gently slide the applicator out from under the band and leg.
  • Step 4. Once the applicator is removed, the band should be in the proper location on the lower leg, but it may have a gap in it which you will need to correct.

5. Applying a split leg band 6. Applying a split leg band

  • Step 5. Gently but firmly apply pressure to the band on either side of the slit, helping to close the gap.
  • Step 6. When you are finished, the gap should be small enough that the leg cannot slip out of it; if the gap is too large, it may injure the leg or become caught up in objects in the cage (such as cage wire or nesting material).

Owl finch
An owl finch demonstrating the proper location of a split band.

My Banding System

The banding system I developed was established to make setting up breeding pairs easier; its purpose is to prevent inbreeding. It is not a perfect system as it has its limitations, but it works well for smaller collections (about 4 original breeding pairs), and it remains effective for up to three generations.

The idea is that each newly purchased addition to a breeding program (which is unrelated to any of the other birds already in the program) will be assigned a unique solid color band. When two birds are paired, any young they produce will be banded with split-color band(s) representing the colors of both parents. This way, when birds are paired in the future, it will be easy to prevent inbreeding simply by ensuring that no two birds carrying the same color are bred together.

Four pairs (all unrelated birds) will be used as an example.

Hen #1 = Red
Hen #2 = White
Hen #3 = Orange
Hen #4 = Purple

Cock #1 = Black
Cock #2 = Green
Cock #3 = Yellow
Cock #4 = Blue

During the first breeding season, perhaps you will pair the following birds:

Pair #1 = Hen 1 + Cock 1 => all chicks red/black bands
Pair #2 = Hen 2 + Cock 2 => all chicks white/green bands
Pair #3 = Hen 3 + Cock 3 => all chicks orange/yellow bands
Pair #4 = Hen 4 + Cock 4 => all chicks purple/blue bands

Next year you may switch up the pairs:

Pair #1 = Hen 4 + Cock 3 => all chicks purple/yellow bands
Pair #2 = Hen 2 + Cock 1 => all chicks white/black bands
Pair #3 = Hen 3 + Cock 4 => all chicks orange/blue bands
Pair #4 = Hen 1 + Cock 2 => all chicks red/green bands
In the future, you could breed a red/green baby to any of the adults not wearing red or green, or to a orange/blue baby or to a white/black baby, purple/yellow baby, or orange/yellow, purple/blue. you could not breed a red/green baby to a red/black baby or a white/green baby because the shared colors (red and/or green) indicate that the two birds are genetically related.

If you were to pair offspring in the future, for example

Red/green cock + Black/white hen: the babies should all be banded with two split bands (one on each leg); a red/green band on one leg and a black/white band on the other.

Red/green black/white bird could be bred to a orange/blue purple/yellow bird: red/green black/white orange/blue purple/yellow babies. This is why this technique only works for up to 3 generations. The third generation already has 2 split bands on each leg (the maximum # of split bands that will fit on each leg).

The major limitation to this method is that the striped/dual color bands only come in a limited number of color combinations. You may have trouble finding green/purple bands and green/orange bands, for instance.

Applying a closed leg band Applying a closed leg band Applying a closed leg band

Alternate Banding Systems

A leg banding method for distinguishing over 180 birds at a glance.External Site - Scroll down to find the article published by Michael Marcotrigiano

Record Keeping

record keeping: individual vs pairs
PDF file Individual Record - printable .pdf file
PDF file Breeding Record - printable .pdf file

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