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Bird Banding at the Zoo

A gray catbird with a colored band around its ankle. The bird is being held by a scientist

Wild Birds of the National Zoo is a joint outreach and wildlife research effort at the Smithsonian's National Zoo. Scientists provide a unique educational opportunity for Zoo guests by demonstrating bird banding, one of the primary methods used to study wild birds.

These demonstrations focus on how birds make their living in residential environments, the features of these environments that help or harm wild birds, and the steps that Zoo guests can take to improve the environment for birds and other wildlife.

Wild Birds of the National Zoo enlists the public to act as citizen scientists by reporting re-sights of color-banded birds. Re-sight data will be used to estimate the survival of the wild birds that make the Zoo their home—a crucial metric for determining population status.

Project staff hope to give the public a stronger understanding of the impact of urbanization on wildlife, enhance their connection to nature and engage them in the practice of ecological science.

Throughout this process, scientists will assess the educational impact of the program to better understand how to successfully reach the public with ecological messages related to birds. Results from this study will also inform the development of interpretive materials for the tracking lab in the upcoming Experience Migration exhibit, which debuts in 2021.