Birds and Nail Polish

OWCN has been painting bird beaks with nail polish over the past few weeks….and we actually have a good reason!  We have been investigating non-invasive methods to mark birds in captivity – something that will allow us to identify individuals, even when other marking methods, such as leg bands, might be hidden from view, or without actually handling the animal.  We also wanted to utilize a method that didn’t require us to put anything on the feathers, thereby avoiding potential waterproofing issues, and also something that would not come off in the water.  Nail polish is of course commonly used on humans, but is successfully used to mark wild animals for studies, and even in rehabilitation centers on occasion.  We used a fast drying, low scent polish on the birds, and have a no-odor, acetone free remover to take it off, approved by our veterinarians.  Preliminary results showed no adverse effects to the birds, and we will be examining our method more in depth next month.

A common murre sporting "Lively Lilac", as we test out marking methods on birds at International Bird Rescue.

A common murre sporting “Lively Lilac”, as we test out marking methods on birds at International Bird Rescue.

The ability to identify individuals opens up many possibilities for the OWCN.  For example, during a spill we could potentially mark all animals that need to be medicated daily with a certain color, making it easy to pull those individuals out.  Additionally, the OWCN has two research studies lined up where we intend to use this marking method in order to identify birds by video camera.

We look forward to sharing more results with you all soon!


2 thoughts on “Birds and Nail Polish

  1. Does OWCN also do banding? I understand the observability factor in this project and technique, but I’ve always wondered if birds going through rehab and release are also banded. Banding has provided a lot of interesting life history and migration data. Thanks for the great work you do!

    • Hi Jeannie,
      Yes, the OWCN bands all the birds that get rehabilitated and released after an oil spill. This allows us to gain valuable knowledge and make inferences on survival post-release, based on the number of bands that are reported to the Bird Banding Lab.

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