Researchers have been banding birds since the late 1500’s. The earliest record of a metal band attached to a bird’s leg was about 1595 when one of Henry IV’s banded Peregrine Falcons was lost in France. It showed up 24 hours later in Malta, about 1350 miles away, averaging 56 miles an hour!
The first records of banding in North America are those of John James Audubon, the famous American naturalist and painter. In 1803 he tied silver cords to the legs of a brood of phoebes near Philadelphia and was able to identify two of the nestlings when they returned to the neighborhood the following year.
A system for bird banding did not really develop until 1899, when Hans Mortensen, a Danish school teacher, began placing aluminum rings on the legs of European teal, pintail, white storks, starlings and several types of hawks. He inscribed the bands with his name and address in the hope they would be returned to him if found. His system of banding became the model for our current efforts.
In 1902 Paul Bartsch, a well-known conchologist, whose hobby was the study of birds, began the first scientific system of banding in North America. The real pioneer bander in the Americas was Jack Miner who established a waterfowl sanctuary near Kingsville, Ontario. Between 1909 and 1939 he banded 20,000 Canada Geese alone, many of which carried bands returned to him by hunters
By 1909 the American Bird Banding Association had been formed to organize and assist the growing numbers of bird banders. By 1920 banding was so widespread that it could not be coordinated by a private group, so the Bureau of Biological Survey (now the United States Geologic Survey) and its counterpart the Canadian Wildlife Service accepted the offer to take over the work of the Association. This has been a joint effort to oversee the activities of dedicated banders all over the world ever since.