Today’s Factismal: The Romans used bird bands to communicate 2,250 years ago.
Imagine that you are a Roman soldier trapped in a fortress and surrounded by angry Gauls who are almost as upset about being told that they are now Roman subjects as they are about being told that their country will no longer be divided into three parts. Now imagine that there is another Roman garrison, just over the hill and ready to come to your rescue. How can you get word to them that the Gauls have put down their frog legs and taken up their arms? You can’t send a runner, because the Gauls won’t let him pass. But you can send a bird. And that is exactly what Quintus Fabius Pictor did; he wrapped a strip of cloth around a crow’s leg and sent it to the other legion. Crushed between the two Roman armies, the Gauls were defeated and the boundaries of Rome pushed out a little.
And for the next two millennia, that is how bird bands were used; as a method for communicating, usually between two parts of an army. Even during World War I and World War II, pigeons and other birds served as message carriers for combatants. But scientists had already realized that birds could also carry messages about themselves. By putting a band with an ID number on the bird and tracking where the bird was caught and released, scientists learn more about where birds live, how long they live, and how far they travel on their peregrinations.
If you’d like to help with bird banding, then consider joining the American Oystercatcher Working Group as they seek to learn more about this interesting animal.
And if you come across a bird with a band, then please report it to Banded Bird Encounters: