How to read bird ID bands

Updated April 17, 2017

ID bands are a common method of tagging and labelling various kinds of birds. From imported adult birds to home bred infants, bird quarantine facilities keep track of these birds using the simple band system. The bands feature a row of letters, or numbers and letters, all of which translate into understandable information about the bird you have found. By correctly providing the code on the band to any local quarantine facility, you can easily find out everything you need to know.

Check the leg band on the bird to identify what type of bird you have found. If the band is an expandable open type then the bird was probably imported and tagged once it was mature. A small, closed band indicates the bird was tagged when it was a baby.

Read the letters on the band to see if they start with USDA. This would indicate the bird was tagged by a USDA operated quarantine station.

Determine which city the bird's station is in by checking the letter immediately after the letters USDA. For example with a band that says USDAM, the M would mean the bird is from Miami.

Read bands with non-USDA letters one letter at a time. These bands indicate a privately owned and run station. Refer to the first letter of the code to find the state that bird was tagged in. Some examples include

California - C,O

Florida - F

Hawaii - H

Illinois - I

Louisiana - L

Michigan - M

New York - N

Texas - T

Find the second letter for identifying the breeder and his facility. You will need this code especially for larger breeders that operate multiple facilities.

Read the last letter along with the three numbers following it to find the unique ID of the bird wearing the band.


Wear gloves when handling birds that you are not familiar with in case they turn out to be vicious.


Do not remove a bird from its quarantine facility without the consent of the operator.

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About the Author

Based in West Windsor, N.J., Allison Melman has been writing health- and travel-related articles since 1999. Her work has appeared in "Salon" and "Better Health" magazines. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Southern Connecticut State University.