Leg Bands: Codes and Colors

Every crane in the new Eastern flock wears leg bands on each leg.
When they're born, they get a temporary colored band with a number. After they follow the with the ultralight planes to Florida on their first journey south, experts put permanent leg bands on the birds during their health checks. Like names for humans, a set of color-coded bands identifies each crane for life. Each crane has its own code of colors. (You can see them on our crane Life History pages.) Detailed histories are kept on each of these endangered birds, and the banding colors help scientists tell the birds apart.

Colors: Red, White and Green
ICF's Sara Zimorski explains the colors used to make up the codes: "Red, white, and green are the three brightest and most contrasting colors. They show up, are easy to tell apart, and are not easily confused with other colors. That's why Richard Urbanek chose them for our color combinations (codes). As a bonus, each bird has all three colors; if we ever see a bird with only 2 colors, we will immediately know a band was lost. Only one bird has lost a band since the start of this project in 2001."

Carriers, Too
Leg bands also hold the battery-powered VHF radio transmitter with each bird's own radio frequency for tracking purposes. A few of the birds will get yet another band and transmitter (PTT) for satellite tracking. For more information, see Tracking Cranes.

Try This! Journal or Discussion Question

  • Tracking is expensive. What do you think scientists hope to learn by tracking the Whooping cranes in the new Eastern flock?