Interpreting Bird Bands
by Ginger Wolnik

First published in The Pet Gazette, February 1993.

Does your pet bird have a band around its leg? Have you ever wondered what bands mean? Well, a band can tell alot, or it might mean nothing. But if you buy a bird with no band at all, you have to trust the seller to provide you with all information about it.

Bands are used by breeders to identify individual birds for record keeping. Imported birds must be banded to prove they passed through an authorized government quarantine station. In California, budgerigars (parakeets) must be banded to be sold at a pet shop. A lost pet can be positively identified if it has a numbered band. However, a band can be dangerous because a bird can snag and injure its leg. Breeders can accept an occational loss from this because of the greater benefit provided by indentifing their birds. The pet owner may not want to accept such a risk. If you decide to remove a band, it is best to have someone with experience do it because it is easy to injure the bird's leg. Your veterinarian can do this as part of a checkup. If a band is removed, the pieces should be kept for reference in case the bird is ever sold.

There are two types of bird bands, open and closed. Closed bands are seamless and made from steel or aluminum. They are stamped with the year the bird was hatched. They usually contain other numbers and letters that may tell you the species, the breed, the breeder, and a "serial" number that can uniquely identify that bird. Closed bands must be put on the leg of the bird when it is a chick by slipping its tiny foot through the band. The bird grows and the band cannot slip back off. The only way to remove a closed band is to cut it off, which damages the band. Be aware that it is possible for a breeder to make or custom order closed bands with any information they want. So, a closed band only proves that the bird was raised in captivity. However, closed bands are usually reliable sources of information.

Open bands have a seam and can be crimped on the bird at any age. They can be made of plastic, as well as metals. Imported birds are supposed to have a U.S.D.A. quarantine band, which is a narrow, open band. Sometimes, breeders fail to put a closed band on a baby bird in time, so they must use an open band to identify the bird. If you buy from an honest source, an open band can provide as much information as a closed band. Because they can be removed and possibly transfered to another bird, an open band is never a guarantee.

Breeders of small birds like canaries and finches may use colored plastic open bands to temporarily identify birds in a large flock. For instance, they may use one color for males and another for females. These schemes are entirely the whim of the breeder. Plastic bands often get left on when the bird is sold, but mean absolutely nothing to a pet owner if there are no numbers.

When you buy a pet bird, ask the seller to explain the meaning of all bands on it. If there is no band, ask how inbreeding was prevented and how records were kept. If there is a temporary plastic open band, ask the seller to remove it for you. If it has a government quarantine band, you know the bird was imported and probably not a hand-fed baby, no matter what you are promised! Make sure all numbers on all bands are written on your receipt. This proves which bird you bought.

Some closed bands are provided to bird breeders by societies representing that type of bird. The society secretary keeps records each year of which breeder got what numbers. So, any bird with these bands can be traced by contacting the society. You need to know the code letters for the society. Contact information for bird societies can be found in some issues of Bird Talk and American Cage-Bird magazines. These bands serve the same function that AKC (American Kennel Club) "papers" do for dogs because they register the bird with that society. You may be able to contact the breeder and get a pedigree for a bird that has a registered society band.

In spite of the drawbacks of bands, no one has been able to come up with a better method for identifying birds. Some veterinarians are experimenting with microchip implantation. This expensive procedure may become useful for tracing large, stolen parrots. However, this technology is not economical or practical yet for most bird breeders. So, look for a band when buying a bird. If the seller cannot explain what all the numbers on the band mean, they know less about birds than you now do!

(end of original article)

Some common bird band codes are:

ABS American Buderigar Society
ACS American Cockatiel Society
ALS African Lovebird Society
AS American Singers Club (canaries) (before 2004)
ASC American Singers Club (canaries) (2004 and later)
IFCInternational Fife Club (canaries)
NCA National Colorbred Association (canaries)
NCS National Cockatiel Society
NFS National Finch & Softbill
SPBE Society of Parrot Breeders and Exhibitors
USDA United States Department of Agriculture

A way to find information about clubs is to visit or telephone your local public library and ask for the "Encyclopedia of Associations". Look up the type of bird, eg. canaries, to find a list of contacts for national (and international) organizations. The following website for the National Cage Bird Show lists contacts for many bird societies.

Additional information about bands from the Capitol City Bird Society

Reading Importer Band Codes

The First Letter
C California through LAX
O California through LAX
F Florida through Miami International
H Hawaii through Honolulu International
I Illinois through Chicago O'Hare
L Louisiana through New Orleans (now all closed)
M Michigan through Detroit (2 left in operation)
N New York through JFK (can no longer be sold in state)
T Texas through Brownsville, 3 stations via Mexico City

The Second Letter
This identifies the importer and his facility. Large importers have more than one facility and more than one code. For a current list of importers and their codes write: Import Export Section, USDA, APHIS Federal Building, Hyattsville, MD 20782.

The Third Letter
This is part of the bird's individual identification code which also contains three additional numbers. With this procedure, 26,000 combinations are possible before any station repeats a code.

The United States Department of Agriculture also runs government quarantine stations. Many of these stations were closed some years ago, but the banded birds are still around.

Solely for Birds:
USDAN San Ysidro, CA
USDAA Los Angeles, CA
USDH Honolulu, HI
USDAB Brownsville, TX
USDAX Mission, TX (confiscated birds auctioned from time to time)
USDAL Larado, TX

Occationally for birds:
HH Honolulu, HI
USDA-F 58A, 58B, 58C, 58D, 58E and 58F Miami, FL
USDAC a mystery code

Web site which lists various band codes for canaries:
(it is not necessary to install Japanese fonts to read the English information)

The North American Bird Banding Program information about wild bird bands

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