Citizen Scientist - Reporting Leg Flags

My brother was recently in Florida and had occasion to photograph a shorebird in winter plumage that he could not immediately identify. While we were poring over the photos, we discovered that one of the birds was banded. So we decided to report this number in the interest of 'citizen science'. I thought I would write an article about this topic: Reporting banded bird data, specifically this type of marker, what we found out is called a "leg flag." (See photo below)

Mystery Bird with Leg Flag (XJ4) (Photo Credit: EJ Saur)
I personally did not know of the existence of the leg flag type of marker until seeing these pictures. I do not know when they came into being, but it is a great idea. On the bird above, if you look closely, you can see a metal band on the lower right leg. This was the only type of band I knew about, and of course they are impossible to report on from a photograph like this. But the leg flag is a different story - you can read it from a photograph and report it, thus providing valuable conservation data. So how do you go about reporting this data? Read on...

First of all go to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Banding Laboratory website. They have a series of web pages to fill out:

-Beginning (Who (Are you the finder? a bird bander?) and What (e.g. Metal Tag or Colored Marker))
-About Band, Bird, and Date
-Marker Info
-Encounter Location
-Contact Info
-Verification (Photo Upload)

Screen Capture of Marker Info Page

The screen capture above is interesting in that it shows all of the different types of markers and where they are located on the bird. Once you check the Leg Flag box you get the following:

Now you simply fill in the data from the bird, using a photograph in our case.

The next page is Encounter Location and we ended up using the "Find it on a map" feature (see below) which turned out to be great. You can really locate the bird sighting well using this tool. You simply drag the red marker until you are at the spot, very nice!

Find it on a map tool
Then it is a question of filling out your contact information and in our case, we uploaded the photo so the Patuxent people could have it. And after a bit of study, we concluded that the bird was a Red Knot in adult non-breeding plumage (the keys being the bill size and shape, the bird size (slightly larger than a Ruddy Turnstone which my brother had photographed next to the Knot), and the fact that it was banded). I'll just bet the research people will be glad to know that this Red Knot was found alive and well, feeding on the beach at Sanibel Island, Florida on Oct 29, 2012. 

If you see a bird banded with a leg flag, I would strongly encourage you to provide some "Citizen Science" data using the Patuxent website - it is very easy, fun, and a rewarding experience!


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