Scientists to remove harmful bands from plovers

Federal scientists plan to head out this spring to remove bands that are injuring some endangered piping plovers, even causing some to lose their feet.

Removal of metal leg bands began after study found they caused injuries

Federal scientists plan to head out this spring to remove bands that are injuring some endangered piping plovers, even causing some to lose their feet.

Between 1998 and 2003, scientists placed nearly 1,100 plastic and aluminum bands around the legs of the birds as part of an effort to track the endangered species.

This week, the Canadian Wildlife Service filed notice that it wants to remove the bands, saying they "may potentially constrict the bird's leg and lead to loss of mobility or loss of the extremity."

The scientists plan to capture the birds on beaches around Atlantic Canada, then remove the bands.

No one from Environment Canada was available to speak to CBC News about the issue.

One type of band causes leg injuries, according to a study by six Canadian Wildlife Service scientists published in the Journal of Field Ornithology in March 2006.

Scientists recovered 140 piping plovers with the tall, anodized aluminum bands. They found 15 of the birds suffered injuries, including 10 with serious injuries and four that lost an entire foot.

The scientists found that others had swollen legs and skin adhered to the metal band. Most of the birds recovered, though the scientists said more may have died from injuries that they didn't know about.

Canadian scientists began removing the bands from piping plovers in 2006, after the study was published.

Bands pose a minor threat: biologist

Dalhousie biologist Marti Leonard, who was not part of the piping plover banding project, said the injuries caused by the banding are a minor threat compared to the danger posed by human interference.

"I would say any negative impact of the bands is minuscule compared to other problems for these birds, such as loss of breeding habitat," she told CBC News.

"That includes people walking on beaches that are closed during the breeding season, if our pets get loose and disturb the birds, and simple things like dropping garbage on the beach, which might attract predators like crows or gulls."

The practice of banding piping plovers ended in 2003.