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Leg Bands: More Than Just Accessories

If you do an online search for “leg bands for birds,” you’ll find a variety of bands available in different colors and materials. They seem like they would make cute accessories for your pet bird. However, what are leg bands used for? Are they safe? We’ll explain what they are and go over the pros and cons of these tiny bird anklets.

Why Are Leg Bands Used?

Think of leg bands as ID bracelets for birds. Breeders use the accessories to identify young chicks. Bands help breeders and bird owners differentiate between the birds in the group and prevent inbreeding. The rings can also help breeders record certain mutations or genes that are important for producing certain traits when breeding the animals.

These small rings can help identify the gender of the bird. Bands are placed on the right leg for male birds and the left leg for female birds. You can add your contact information to the band so that the animal can be returned if it is lost.
Some states require that certain birds wear closed leg bands. This ensures that people aren’t removing exotic birds from their natural habitats and selling them as pets. Many breeders need permits to own or cultivate exotic birds. To get a permit, you must provide the band number.

Imported animals go into quarantine when they travel to the country. Before 1992, the USDA mandated that these birds be banded before they were released. The bands are stamped with a code that identifies the quarantine station and the animal, and records are kept for four years. However, the Wild Bird Conservation Act, enacted in 1992, stopped the commercial importation of parrots. You can still import a pet bird if you’re moving to the country, though.

How Are Leg Bands For Birds Applied?

Closed bands are put on when the bird is small. This is often done by domestic breeders. However, some international breeders may also use closed bands on captive birds. Closed bands look like a ring and they may be made of steel, aluminum, or plastic. They’re seamless and have no openings. As the leg grows, the foot becomes too large to allow the band to slip off. Removal of a closed band can only be done by snipping it off. A closed band is proof that the bird hatched in captivity.

To place a band on an older bird, you would use an open style. Place it around the bird’s leg, and squeeze to secure it. These bands aren’t as secure as closed bands. They can be removed and substituted with a different band. Birds with open bands on their legs may have been caught in the wild and sold illegally.

Pros of Leg Bands

Even if you’re extremely careful with your bird, accidents happen. Your bird could escape. A banded bird is much more likely to be returned than an unidentified animal. Banding also allows you to prove that you’re the pet’s true owner. Some bands are traceable. A veterinarian, breeder, or pet store employee can scan the band to locate your contact information and data about the bird.

Banding can prevent bird theft. Pet stores or breeders that purchase birds will question a bird with a naked leg. That’s because thieves often remove bands from stolen animals.

Cons of Leg Bands

Bird bands must be the right size. If they’re too small, they can cut off the animal’s circulation, causing harm. If your pet’s beak is strong enough to squeeze the band, it can become misshapen, cutting into the animal’s skin. If you’re a bird owner, you probably know that if your curious pet can get into trouble, it will find a way.

Open bands that aren’t sealed properly can have a tiny opening that can get caught on items in the bird’s environment. This could trap or wound the bird. Birds have been known for gnawing off their own feet to try to free an ensnared band. In other cases, veterinarians have had to amputate limbs that have been damaged from the rings. One of the keys to keeping your bird healthy is to inspect the area around the ring regularly for damage.

Alternatives to Leg Bands

Some owners and medical professionals remove the bands when they treat a bird or if the band becomes a hazard. If this occurs, a certificate should be created with the band’s identifying information and a description of the bird. To be safe, you should keep the band if you remove it. You may even want to take a picture of your pet wearing the band before it’s taken off.

You can identify your bird using microchipping or DNA fingerprinting. If you remove the band, you may want to use one of these alternative methods of keeping track of your pet. You can tie the microchip or fingerprint information to the certificate to prove that this is the same bird.

Removal of the band can make it hard to return the bird to the breeder or sell it in the future. Some states won’t accept a certificate from a non-banded bird. Some pet owners are skeptical of birds that don’t have bands.

What’s the Verdict?

Many states require you to have a band on your pet bird even if you use another form of identification, like a microchip. Therefore, it’s probably safest for you to keep a band on your bird. It will also help you retrieve the animal if you ever get separated. Proper pet care can prevent the ring from harming your bird. If you must remove the band because of a health issue or for preference, make sure that you record the information and use an alternative method of identification. Pet birds can be your companions for a long time. You don’t want to be forced to leave it behind if you move or if it gets lost.