Why band birds?

A colour-banded shore plover, Southeast Island.
A colour-banded shore plover,
Southeast Island

The next time you see a bird, ask yourself these questions:

  • How many of that type of bird are there?
  • Where does it live?
  • Does it mate for life?
  • How old is it and how long might it live?
  • How many eggs will it lay during its life? (if it is female)
  • Does it fly far away from here?
  • Where will it go?
  • Where does it feed?

The answers to these questions are important to conserving our native birds, and the places where they live. Researchers who look for those answers often need to be able to recognise individual birds or groups of birds. One way is to attach bands or tags to the birds.

Researchers who use bands to study birds are called 'banders', in Europe they are known as 'bird ringers'. The National Banding Office helps this research by supplying numbered metal bands and coloured bands to approved banding operators. These bands are usually fitted around the bird's lower leg (or tarsus).

A metal band fitted on the leg of a snipe.
A metal band fitted on the leg of a

Bird banding in New Zealand is controlled under the Wildlife Regulations 1955, and the Wildlife Act 1953. A permit, issued by the Department of Conservation, is needed before people can capture, handle, mark or band protected bird species.

Each metal band is stamped with a different number and the Department of Conservation, the Dominion Museum or National Museum of New Zealand address.

Since the first banding schemes started in 1947, over 1.3 million birds from 241 different species have been banded throughout New Zealand. About 400,000 of these have been recovered, dead or alive.

A large number of banded New Zealand birds are migratory and have been found as far away as Australia, North and South America, South Africa, and Russia.

Each band returned adds another item of information, such as how far the bird has travelled and how old it lived for and may even mean an entirely new discovery.

Recovery of a band means the distance between the banding site and recovery site can be calculated, as can the time elapsed since banding thus giving an indication on how long the bird lived for.

The New Zealand National Banding scheme works with international banding organisations to track the movement of migrating birds throughout the world. The New Zealand scheme keeps data on birds banded overseas but recovered in New Zealand, and vice versa.


Metal bands are the most common form of banding carried out within New Zealand.

When a band is recovered from a dead bird or recorded from a captured bird, researchers are able to learn much about the bird.

They can work out how far the bird has travelled from where it was banded and the age of the bird, if it was banded as a chick.

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Find out more

Learn more


National Banding Office
Address: PO Box 108
Wellington 6140

Phone:  +64 4 471 3248
Email: bandingoffice@doc.govt.nz