Bird banding

Subject: Bird banding
From: Graeme Chapman <>
Date: Mon, 20 Oct 2014 10:06:34 +1100
Hello Damien,

First of all I agree with what you said in your latest post on Birding-aus , in 
particular the failure of recent governments in Australia (mainly Federal) to 
support science and the environment. We should all put our money where our 
mouth is and support AWC.

 However I would like to make the odd qualifier.

I was a professional ornithologist and bird bander all of my working life - 
without bird banding (in particular individually colour-banded birds) we could 
not have carried out the research we did.

During that time, and before when I was a teenager I also banded birds as an 
amateur in conjunction with many of the leading bird-banders of the era. I  
have been there and done that. I've also probably seen all the bad things - 
events that happened that may have been preventable with hindsight,  but 
nobody's perfect.

About predators and mist nets. Such deaths are as you say avoidable by keeping 
a good lookout. People don't!  I have seen nets only checked once every 
half-hour. By and large I would say amateurs set as many nets as they can, 
because their measure of success is often how many birds they catch in a 

Overall in my experience I would estimate the death rate associated with mist 
netting as about 1%. All sorts of things happen - Brown Thornbills die in your 
hand (from shock) - predators ( Catbirds are the worst in rainforest) - I have 
known of nets left overnight accidentally containing dead birds the next 
morning -  No 1 mist nets left too long can cause small birds to be so badly 
tangled that birds can barely fly when released - and finally poorly fitted 
bands can cause injury, not common but it happens.

Many bird banders will deny any of this happens but they aren't telling the 
truth - out in the bush there are no witnesses!

Now about cannon nets. Wrongly set, or fired when the birds are in the wrong 
position, cannon nets behead birds. Fortunately few people do and the experts 
will have learnt by experience, Having to house and process a large number 
birds in hot weather is a very difficult undertaking. By and large I don't know 
what the death rate would be, but rest assured there would be one. People are 
reluctant to report or even talk about this sort of thing. 

The big question is whether in the name of science, is it worth it? I believe 
it is so long as it really is science and not just weekend entertainment.  
Compared with loss of habitat, introduced predators including man, climate 
change and all the other variables, the negatives of bird banding are a drop in 
the ocean. 


Graeme Chapman  ( 
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