by Linda Winnie

Banded Trumpeter Swan – Photo Credit: Dick Walker

No – this is not about a local rock concert. It is about recent observations in the Valley of birds wearing colored neck collars inscribed with big letters and numbers that can be read from a distance.

In general, it is geese and swans that are banded with colored collars. Swans are usually marked at their summering areas. Red, green, and yellow collars are most often used for Trumpeters; gray, black and blue for Tundras. Correct reading of the alphanumeric code inscribed on the collar is usually needed to determine where the bird was banded.

Mid-March this year a Trumpeter wearing a green collar with white letters and numbers was spotted at Church Slough. The observer was able to read the code “R20” and found out that this bird was banded in 2017 at Grays Lake NWR in southeast Idaho, along with another Trumpeter “R21”. The two were seen the next year on the Blackfoot River in Montana. Spring 2019, R20 headed back west; it was seen at Pioneer Reservoir in western Idaho, this time without R21. Then in fall 2019 it showed up in Montana again – in September at Costich Lake east of Eureka, in October near Whitefish. And now we know that the following year, 2020, it appeared on Church Slough.

In late March shortly after the Church Slough observation a Trumpeter with a green neck band and white letters/numbers was spotted on Ashley Creek just above Smith Lake. It was with 4 other Trumpeters, one adult and three immature; none of the others had collars. The observer was not able to read the code on the band. Maybe it was R20? Maybe there is another green collared Trumpeter in the area? Further observations are needed. Keep your eyes open for a green collared Trumpeter and check for its code.

All observations of banded birds, including those with neck collars, should be reported to the USGS Bird Banding Lab at Lab will send you information about your banded bird of the sort outlined above for R20.

For more information on banded swans visit The Trumpeter Swan Society keeps records on banded swans, and would like to get a copy of any report on a swan sighting made to the Bird Banding Lab. See the Society website for how to do this.

AND THAT IS NOT ALL. In April this year, a Snow Goose wearing a red collar was spotted near Split Pond in the Lower Valley. The picture taken by Rick Mace at the left shows the collar. The majority of Snow Geese that visit Freezout have black collars, indicating a nesting ground in the western Canadian arctic. But some red collars also show up, marking birds that nest on Wrangel Island, Russia –west of Greenland. That tells us where the Split Pond bird has nested.

So colorful neck bands are showing up in Flathead Valley. Keep your eyes out for them! When you see a bird with a collar – or any other type of band, be sure to record the code on the band and report your sighting to

And we at Flathead Audubon would appreciate hearing about it too: