Leg Bands and Identification

By Rick Axelson, DVM

Care & Wellness

December 11, 2008

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) or pinned together.

"Sexing bands are put on the right leg to indicate males and left leg to indicate females."

Open bands may also 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.

Can a leg band be a problem for my bird?

leg_bands__identification-1Sometimes! Leg injuries can be caused by leg bands. The bands can be caught in cage parts or toys and this may lead to breaks, cuts, dislocations or sprains. Leg bands sometimes are too small and may cause constriction of the leg. Some smaller birds may develop a buildup of dead skin between the skin and the band, which will cause the band to become too tight. If a foot is injured and becomes swollen, the leg band will again be unforgiving. In the worse case, this can lead to loss of a foot.

All leg bands should be checked regularly for problems.

Should I have my bird's leg band removed?

The leg band is often the only form of identification for a bird. Unfortunately if it is removed, positive identification becomes impossible and unreliable. A leg band is rarely linked to owners. Previously, many people have freely removed leg bands. Now, because of current international regulations (C.I.T.E.S) on the movement, trade or travel of many birds around the world, positive identification is most important. This is especially true of birds considered endangered or threatened. Verification of where a bird was born (captive or wild) may be required if you move, travel or sell your pet. Leg bands should only be removed if improperly applied, are causing problems for the bird, or if you are changing to another, better means of identification as described below.

"Because of current international regulations (C.I.T.E.S) on the movement, trade or travel of many birds around the world, positive identification is most important."

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?

microchipSmall identification microchips are being used in North America and other countries around the world. This microchip (about the size of a grain of rice) can be quickly and safely implanted into the breast muscle of a bird. The implant is read by passing a scanning "wand" over the bird with complete safety. The microchip number is recorded and registered to you through the microchip company; the microchip will make a direct and positive identification of the individual bird linked directly to an owner.

Tattoos are injected into the skin and offer another means of identification. However, tattoos may fade with time. This is NOT a popular method.

A photograph of the unique skin patterns on the feet is much like fingerprinting a human in that only one bird will have this pattern. However, there is currently no database for retrieving this information.

Genetic DNA "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 about these identification options and advancements to determine the best method for your bird.

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