by Scott Lewis
I see lots of questions on the Internet about leg bands, especially about what the information means and how to trace it. It depends on the band.
An open band typically indicates an imported bird. I say typically, because open bands are available for domestic birds but typically are used in special situations only. For example a breeder may not want to pull babies that are intended to be raised through fledging by the parents to apply closed bands. Therefore, the breeder will apply open bands after the babies have fledged.
With open bands on imported birds, the letters indicate the import station and the numbers indicate the lot number of the birds that were imported. These bands are not unique. That is, all birds from the same import station and import lot will have the same information on their bands.
However, assuming the import station is still in business, this information may be important to a breeder, because the breeder can determine from where a bird was exported by contacting the import station and inquiring about the lot number. This information may be useful in determining subspecies. (Don't ask. I don't have a list of letters and corresponding import stations.)
Most closed bands come from L&M Bird Leg Bands (909/882-4649). A typical closed band might look something like:
TX (sideways) OWA 96 (sideways) 57
For us, this would mean Texas, Old World Aviaries, 1996, band number 57. That is, the band reads: state, breeder's initials, year, band sequence number. All this information is fairly arbitrary and depends on what the breeder wants on the bands. I can order blank bands if I want to, and I can include or exclude any of the standard information on the band. And, for the breeder's initials, we could use ABC instead of OWA, assuming no other breeder was already using ABC.
Tracing bands can be a problem. Last time I checked, L&M was reluctant to release breeder information. And, L&M is not always the source. For example, we use bands from the American Federation of Aviculture (AFA). L&M makes them, but the AFA keeps the information.
And no, you do not have to leave the band on the leg, although some states may require other proof of origin if you remove the band. Closed bands that are too large and open bands that are not properly crimped should be removed, because they risk injury to your bird. However, closed bands are considered evidence of domestic origin, which can be important with rare psittacines and psittacines that are commonly smuggled.
Note that closed bands are not really proof of domestic origin. The smugglers have figured out that they can either force a closed band over the bird's foot or dislocate the toes to apply a closed band.