Raptor Banding

Bird banding is the attachment of a small, individually numbered, metal tag to the leg of a wild bird to enable individual identification. This helps in keeping track of the bird and its life history.

Capturing Raptors

Catching a hawk takes a lot of practice, patience and skill.   The use of bow traps (pictured) and mist nets are two methods for capturing raptors for banding.  Much training is involved in learning how to properly operate the traps. A bow trap is spring loaded operated by a trigger line that the bander is in control of.  This photo shows the trap in action, covering the Red-tailed Hawk with a net.

Banders operate traps from inside a blind.  

They need to stay out of sight of approaching raptors who are often wary of human presence.   This is the blind at Main station, which can accomodate visitors on occasion, allowing for a unique opportunity to witness raptor research in action!

View from inside the blind at  Payne Beach Station

The first step in banding a hawk is finding one!  Banders scan the skies from inside the blind for oncoming raptors.  Knowing how to idetify species is a very important skill to have as a bander or an assistant.

Bow Trap

A bow trap consists of a metal frame with netting strung around.  The trap is spring loaded and looks like a half circle when set.  A trigger line runs back to the blind where the bander can control its release.  When the hawk is in the center of the trap, the trigger is pulled, and the capture is made!

The hawk is placed in a can to keep it calm and allow for safe handling.  Before applying a band, a leg gauge is used to find the proper sized band to place on it.

Banding a Bird

The lightweight aluminum band is applied to the birds leg using special plyers that close the band just right.  This band will stay with the bird the rest of its life.  It bears a unique identification number that is registered with the USGS so that it may be tracked when encountered again in the future.

Data Collection

After the band is applied to the bird, and it's number recorded, a variety of measurements are taken.  Mass and a measurement of the wing called the wing chord are taken, which can help determine the sex of a species that does not show plumage differences.  

The overall health condition of the bird is also noted.  This information is submitted to the Bird Banding Lab and can be referenced in the future for research purposes.

Measuring the Wing Chord (juvenile Red-tailed Hawk)

The wing chord is a measurement taken from the wrist joint to the end of the longest primary (flight) feather.  This in addition to the mass of the bird can sometimes deternmine its sex.  Male raptors will measure smaller than female raptors.


After the banding process, which takes just a few minutes, the raptor is free to go and continue its journey.   This is a Sharp-shinned Hawk being released behind the station.  Take note how it zips down the trail, under cover of the shrubs and trees.

What we learn from banding

Migratory routes Species habitat use Longevity  Health issues Causes of mortality

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