Every year, Fish and Wildlife Staff spend several days banding as many Common Tern chicks as possible. They choose birds that are old enough to be strong, sturdy and healthy, but too young to fly. This way the chicks can be caught on foot, as they run and scramble across the ground to hide in dense vegetation. The birds are then deposited in a large bucket with their cousins and neighbors, and are banded with quick, athletic efficiency by the field staff.
Banding birds allows us to track how many terns return to the Monomoy colony for multiple breeding seasons, how old these birds live to be, and where they spend the winter months. In a Big-Brotherly effort, biologists throughout North and South America communicate with each other when they resight (or notice and document, in non-biologist terms) a banded Common Tern in their area. Each band contains a code that reveals where a bird was originally banded, and some rare birds like Roseate Terns wear a brightly-colored band with vivid lettering called a Field-Readable, because it can be seen and read through a scope or powerful binoculars.
Banding a bird is a bit like putting a message in a bottle and casting it out to sea, into a great abyss where it disappears as soon as you let go and turn your back. Imagine the surprise and satisfaction you might feel when you receive notice from Argentina that a bird you banded in Massachusetts was captured alive and healthy, and released again into the wild.