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Great Lakes Piping Plovers

Observing Color-bands

It is most important while observing color-bands to not disturb the birds. Banding is done to help understand the lives of Piping Plovers in order to save the species. Causing plovers to flush or stop their normal activities in order to read a band or take a photo is counter to that goal. A spotting scope or a camera with a telephoto lens is very useful for reading color-bands without disturbing the birds. A spotting scope can also be used with a digital camera or even a phone to get close-up images for confirming the band colors and their locations on the birds’ legs.

The best times of day for observing the colors of leg bands are early morning and late afternoon. At these times the low sun angle shines on the bands making the colors much easier to distinguish. Mid-day observations are also possible, but the shadow of the bird will shade its legs at that time. Having the sun at your back will also aid in identifying the colors.

Mid-day

Early or Late in Day

Some people find that trying one eye then the other to discern band colors can be useful; each eye may perceive color slightly differently. As a bird moves and turns it often becomes easier to recognize individual colors. Even the most experienced band readers may observe for more than 10 minutes before becoming confident the colors are correctly recorded. As a result of time, UV radiation and salt water, color-bands often fade and do not appear exactly as one would expect (see chart). Red is especially unstable, often fading within months to a peach or tan color.

Red bands fade from this.....

...to this

Write down the bands you see from top to bottom on the bird’s left leg, then from top to bottom on the bird’s right leg. Then look at the plover again to see if you have the pattern recorded correctly.  If you have difficulty discerning the sometimes subtle color differences, sending in a moderately good quality digital photo can answer many questions.  It’s also always helpful for observers to work in pairs and compare results.