Banded American Oystercatchers Link Florida’s Panhandle to Central America

The first American Oystercatchers of the year arrived in the Gulf of Fonseca last month. Thanks to the science of bird banding, we know where two of them came from.

The Gulf of Fonseca, located on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador, provides important habitat for migratory shorebirds. Earlier this month, scientists discovered a link between the Central American region and a protected shorebird habitat in Florida’s Panhandle.

At the end of June, park rangers recorded around 100 American Oystercatchers, the first flock this year, at Bahía de la Unión, a bay that empties into the Gulf of Fonseca. Six of that flock were banded, and if scientists could get a clear look at the band identification numbers, they could determine where these birds came from.

The American Oystercatcher Working Group, made up of representatives from around 40 conservation organizations, government agencies, and universities on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, sent Victoria Galán, of the Salvadoran ecological organization SalvaNatura, to the site on a mission: Capture clear photos of the bands. On June 28, Galán successfully photographed two banded individuals.

The Working Group identified the birds: Red V06 and Black ATA. Red V06 (named for the color of its band and identification number) was banded as a chick on May 22, 2022 at the Old St. George Causeway, a protected wildlife area known for its abundance of shorebirds and an important Audubon conservation site. Black ATA was banded as a chick at Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland on July 12, 2022.

The resighting in El Salvador sheds light on the migration pattern of these shorebirds, showcasing the importance of bird banding in informing conservation science.

Update July 26: Audubon shorebird biologists in the Panhandle have sighted Red V06's sibling at Little St. George Island, not far from the Old St. George Causeway where they were banded as chicks last summer.

Banded Birds: See Something, Say Something!

Bird banding is like scientists putting a note in a bottle and tossing it back into the sea of migration. The note only gives us information if someone observes and reports it when the bottle arrives on a far-off shore! Because of your efforts, we can learn more about the movements, populations, and breeding success of our banded species.

If you see a banded bird:

• Note date, time, & location — with GPS if possible

• Note the species

• Note which leg or legs have bands

• Note the color and order of bands — upper or lower. If the band or flag has an alphanumeric code, try to note the code

• Take a picture! Digital cameras work great through scopes or binoculars and sometimes enable eagle-eyed biologists to record numbers off of the band.

How you can help, right now