Leg Band Identification
Why does my bird have a leg band?
Leg bands are often applied by the breeder to help identify and keep track of their birds. Breeders usually apply closed (solid) rings or bands at an early age when the small feet will fit through the hole. As the bird grows the bands cannot be removed unless cut off. This helps the breeder monitor the birds that are to be sold as well as managing the genetics of those birds to be bred together. Quarantine bands
are placed on imported birds for regulatory reasons. These bands are often open (incomplete rings). Open bands may be put on the bird after determining the sex of the bird. Sexing bands are put on the right leg to indicate males and left leg to indicate females.
Some birds have tattoos under one of their wings. The tattoo indicates that the bird was surgically sexed using an endoscope. There will be a black patch or spot under the left wing if the bird is a female or under the right wing if it is a male. This practice has been phased out in recent years, particularly since the advent of genetic blood-based sexing in the mid-1990s, and is rarely seen today.
Can a leg band be a problem for my bird?
For the most part, leg bands do not cause any problem. Leg injuries can be caused by leg bands when they get caught in the cage or toy hardware. Leg bands sometimes are too small and may cause constriction of the leg as it grows or if the bird has a foot condition that causes swelling. Some smaller birds may develop a buildup of dead skin between the skin and the band, which will lead to constriction. Injuries can include fracture of the leg, deep wounds, swelling, and even death and loss of the foot. A good rule of thumb for proper band fit is that it spins freely and slides up and down the tarsus (on parrots, this is the bare port ion of the leg just above the toes). If the band cannot slide or if it can slide up over the ankle (the joint just above the tarsus) then it should probably be removed. Removal is painless and generally very easily done with a special band cutter. All leg bands should be checked regularly for problems.
Should I have my bird’s leg band removed?
After sale of the bird, most leg bands have limited value and can be removed. Most are not registered in a centralized database so they DO NOT help with recovery of lost birds (exception: Aviculture Federation of America bands, identified by a special symbol on the band, can be registered but are not always).
They can be important to keep on a bird if international travel or trips to Hawaii are a possibility. However, even in those cases, other permanent forms of identification; such as an implanted microchip, are perfectly acceptable. Microchips ARE registered centrally and do help in recovery of lost or stolen birds.
Ask your veterinarian for advice and never try to remove a leg band at home as it is easy to injure your bird. Have your veterinarian assist you safely to prevent injury to your bird.
How else can I identify my bird?
Passive Radiofrequency-Identification (RF-ID) microchip technology has been available since the 1990s in the veterinary marketplace. It has become ubiquitous to the point that almost every clinic and animal control shelter possesses scanners that can quickly confirm the identity of a pet. By working with the microchip company, they can contact the registered owner and reunite a lost or stolen pet all while maintaining the privacy of the owner. Microchips are about the size of a large grain of rice. They can safely be implanted into birds of about 80 grams or larger (e.g., cockatiels and up). The procedure is quick and can be performed right in the examination room. Smaller birds can also be implanted but require anesthesia or sedation. Microchips have a very limited transmission range and require the use of a scanner. The technology is not yet available for satellite or radiotracking small birds with microchips. However, since many lost or stolen birds do eventually end up in the hands of veterinarians or shelters, the likelihood of recovery is still promising.
There are currently two major manufacturers of identification microchips: AVID and Home Again. It is important to realize that microchips only provide a unique identification number. The number is registered to the purchasing clinic and to you. It is critical that you provide accurate information to the company. It is YOUR responsibility to update the information if you relocate. Visit the website of the manufacturer for information on how to update the information or give them a call:
Genetic “fingerprinting” involves a small sample of blood your veterinarian can have tested to record the unique and specifically individual genetic code of your bird. No other bird will ever have this “fingerprint” and no one can remove it. This particular method is most important when evaluating a breeding bird to establish family bloodlines. Ask your veterinarian if this service is of interest to you.