History of bird banding in Australia

D. Purchase (former Secretary of the Australian Bird Banding Scheme)
Extract from Australian Natural History, Vol.16, No.6, June 1969, pp. 183-188)

An Albatross of undetermined species

On 18th September 1887, an albatross of undetermined species was found near Triggs Island, Western Australia, with a tin collar around its neck which carried the following message: '13 naufrages sont refugies sur les iles Crozet 4 Aout 1887' (thirteen shipwrecked sailors have taken refuge on the Crozet Islands, August 4 1887). This message was telegraphed to the French authorities, who despatched the warship La Meurthe from Madagascar to the Crozets, which are in the south Indian Ocean, and it was established that the message had been attached to the albatross by the crew of the French sailing ship Tamaris, which was wrecked in the Crozets on 9th March 1887. The unfortunate seamen, however, did not live to see the successful result of their experiment in bird banding, as they apparently perished in an ill-fated attempt to reach nearby Possession Island, two months before the arrival , on 2nd December 1887 of La Meurthe.

Although this episode is far removed from the bird-banding methods in use today, it is the earliest and most remarkable case of a banded bird arriving in Australia from overseas; the bird had covered a distance of 3027 miles (4904km) in no more than 46 days.

The foundations of modern scientific bird banding were laid in Denmark in 1899 when Christian Mortensen placed aluminium bands, stamped with numbers, on the legs of 162 young starlings. This technique was rapidly adopted elsewhere and many countries now have national schemes to bird banding.

Bands were first used in Australia in 1912 and were placed on Short-tailed Shearwaters (Puffinus tenuirostris) and White-faced Storm-petrels (Pelagodroma marina) by members of the Bird Observers Club, Melbourne, and the Royal Australian Ornithologists Union (now Birds Australia). After that the growth of bird banding was relatively slow until 1947, when a joint scheme by the CSIRO and the Tasmanian Fauna Board was initiated for banding Short-tailed Shearwaters. Shortly afterwards several states started independent schemes for the banding of waterfowl. Then in 1953 the Australian Bird Banding Scheme was launched by the CSIRO Division of Wildlife Research, to co-ordinate bird banding in Australia at a national level. The Australian Bat Banding Scheme was launched in 1960.


The CSIRO passed administration of both the Australian Bird Banding Scheme and the Australian Bat Banding Scheme over to the Australian National Parks & Wildlife Service (now the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) in 1984. The Schemes were combined into the Australian Bird & Bat Banding Scheme and now currently reside within the Department.