One of the most rewarding activities that a naturalist can enjoy along the local FL gulf beaches is to observe birds. The avian life is diverse and many species have become familiar with non-threatening human activities and can be observed at close range. In addition to simply enjoying such beautiful birds and their fascinating behavior, there is the additional thrill of finding “bling” or bands on certain individuals. The red knot is a particularly interesting species since they are in danger due to declining food and habitat quality and some have been banded. This makes the hunt for bands more rewarding since there is a reasonable chance of finding some banded birds among the local flocks. For example among about 90 red knots on the beach at Knight Island recently I found six banded birds and photographed the bands to allow for identification of individuals. The numbers on the leg bands can be entered into a database (http://report.bandedbirds.org/Search.aspx ) to find the history of individuals.
Two of the more interesting cases were band numbers 18E and EA3. These represent birds banded in Florida and Delaware Bay/NJ respectively. This can be determined by the fact that red knots banded in FL have green flags with codes on the upper right leg and a blue band on the upper left. Birds banded in Delaware Bay have the green flag on the upper left leg. All birds also have a metal band on the lower right leg with identifying codes if the bird is found dead.
Both of these birds are 7-8 years old, impressive ages for such tiny animals (about 10 inches long and weighing about 5 oz). They breed in the far northern Arctic tundra along the ocean and migrate in winter either to Florida or to southern S. America. Thus they have made approximately 8 round trips or even more since we do not know their true ages. Considering the many dangers inherent to such long-distance migration this represents a remarkable feat. It also indicates how such amazing movements can be a viable strategy for reproduction compared to just remaining in one location. It is also remarkable that these two birds were re-sighted 31 and 42 times in NJ, DE, SC, GA and FL; this vindicates the effort spent in banding the birds.
So the next time you are at the beach, look closely at the legs of the birds and see if you can hit the jackpot and find a banded bird. It is not only fun but provides invaluable data for those studying the migration of birds.