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Biodiversity Conservation Center

Robert and Carol Berry

Laramie Bird Scouts

Engaging citizens to explore how birds cope with extreme environments

About the Project     |     Get Involved!     |     Contact Us


Laramie Bird Scouts, WyomingOrnithologists have always been interested in tracking the movements of birds.  By observing and studying various patterns in birds, such as feeding times and frequencies, the location of nesting sites, winter habits, and more, we can learn a lot about how these species are adapted to their environments. 

A common approach to tracking individual birds' movements is by attaching colored bands to birds' legs and carefully recording when and where the birds are re-sighted. Now, a new high-tech solution allows ornithologists to receive re-sighting information even when they can't sit vigilantly at their observation sites.

Photo right by Tim Banks


About the Project

Radio frequency identification (RFID) has the ability to record detailed information about individual birds around the clock, in all types of weather, with much greater accuracy than even the most observant scientist. Birds can be outfitted with tiny Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tags, much like a microchip pet owners use in their cats and dogs, which is attached to birds' leg bands, each with a unique number. When the bird Laramie Bird Scouts, Wyomingvisits a feeder with a tag reader and antenna built into the base, the reader sends a signal to the PIT tag which responds with the identity of that bird, which is then recorded by the reader - similar  to scanning a bar code at the supermarket.  In this manner, visitation data are collected and stored by the tag reader in the feeder and can be downloaded at a later date.

Photo right by Tim Banks

In the past, using RFID technology has been too expensive  (readers can easily cost hundreds of dollars) for ornithologists to deploy widely. However, researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the University of Oklahoma figured out how to make readers at home for about $40 (see details here). We're now working with colleagues at Cornell to build some RFID feeders of our own to track movements, feeder usage and overwinter survival in common feeder birds in southeast Wyoming.

Currently, we're putting the high-tech bands on Mountain Chickadees. In the future, we hope to attach them to Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, Red-breasted Nuthatches and House Finches.

Laramie Bird Scouts, WyomingAbout the Color-Coded Bands

All of our banded birds wear a unique combination of 4 bands. Three of the bands are plastic color bands and one of the bands is the federally issued metal band. We call it the color "silver." To identify a bird that is wearing bands, we start reading the bands from the top-most band on the Left Leg to the bottom-most band on the Right Leg. For example, the bird to the left is called "Green over Silver, Yellow over Red." Note that the designation of Left and Right leg is from the bird's perspective, not ours. You will also perhaps notice the microchip or PIT tag taped to the color bands on one leg. The color of tape we use corresponds to the color bands underneath.  Click here to see the full list of banded birds so far!


Get Involved: Be a Bird Scout!

Watch for birds in your back yard in a nearby park!  If you see one of our birds at your feeder, and would like to report it to us, please keep track of and submit the following information:Laramie Bird Scouts, Wyoming

  • Date,
  • Time,
  • Location (be as specific as possible!)
  • Observer,
  • Species,
  • Color combination - download the guide here
  • any notes you wish to make about behavior (feeding at feeder, roosting, singing...)

Submit the information above by clicking here!

Interested in Mountain Chickadees or the other species we'll be banding? Check them out at All About Birds!

Photo right by Tim Banks


Contact Us!

Have questions or want more information? Contact us!

Project Leader
Alex Rose, PhD

Matt Carling, PhD

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