American Oystercatcher Working Group

Identifying Banded Birds

Bands may look like a flash of color or a bump on the leg of an oystercatcher.  If you think you see something on an oystercatcher’s legs, try to get a closer look and check for bands. These pages will help you learn how to interpret oystercatcher bands correctly.

Location of Bands

Bands can be placed on any of four locations on the legs of American Oystercatchers: upper left, lower left, upper right, and lower right. Different types and colors of bands combine to make each bird’s band combination unique. The location of the band, color, code, type of band, and the position of each band at each location on the leg are all important to accurately identify the identity of the bird. This page will address how to determine the position, type, and color of bands.

Band placement

When determining band position, note the location on the bird’s left and right, not yours. If you could not see one of the four positions on the birds’ legs, do not assume there was no band. Birds may stand on one leg, stand in water, or fluff their belly feathers, all of which can hide bands. Report an unseen location as “unknown.”

Band placement

Color of Bands

Researchers working with American Oystercatchers have agreed on a common banding protocol. Each state (or sometimes a group of states) has been assigned a color. For example, all oystercatchers banded in North Carolina received green engraved color bands (more on engraved bands below). Sometimes it’s hard to determine a band’s color, but if you can, the state the bird was banded in can usually be determined, even if no other information is collected. In addition to the color bands, all oystercatchers will also have a smaller band called the metal band, which really is metal and is silver in color.

You can see the different band colors in the “Banding Schemes” gallery on the left-hand side of this page, or look under Research –> Research Sites to see what banding schemes each state is using.

Some band colors can be easy to confuse. For example, in some light conditions, dark blue and black can be nearly identical. In addition, the colors maroon and red are almost the same; however, maroon bands have only been used in Texas and Louisiana, and it is unlikely that maroon bands will appear on the Atlantic coast. Sometimes it may be hard to see the metal band, which blends in with the birds light-colored legs. Finally, some early orange bands faded and now look like cantaloupe (see the photo below) and are sometimes mistaken for yellow bands.

Band placement

Type of Bands

Most bands are simple round bracelets, but some have a tab that sticks out from the ring around the bird’s leg. These are called “flags” and may or may not have engraved codes on them. Some birds also have both kinds of bands.

Band placement

Writing on Bands

Finally, bands may be engraved with combinations of two or three letters or numbers or they may be plain. Most color bands will have engraved characters and in nearly all cases, engraved bands were placed on the upper legs. The combination of band color and characters identifies individual birds. If you see writing on the bands, try your best to read it. The page “Reading Band Codes” discusses how to read bands.