Bird Watching Ethics

How to Observe Birds Responsibly by Guest Blogger Grumpy Old Birder

Bird watching is a rewarding and enjoyable hobby, but not every birder puts the birds first. Every sphere of life has a few idiots or abusers and it’s up to us good guys to mitigate their damage. Much more prevalence, and with equal potential for harm is ignorance. A few bad apples and lots of good guys, and a few people who don’t know better. My experience of this latter group is that with a little gentle encouragement they are happy to do the right thing. We strive to observe birds responsibly and ethically and avoid disturbing or harming them. For those of you who have yet tread the righteous path here are some tips for practicing responsible bird watching:

  • Respect bird habitats: Do not disturb or damage habitats where birds nest or rest. Obvious of course, but maybe not always clear. When out in the wild stay on designated trails, and avoid entering restricted areas – they are restricted for a reason and a careless act could cost the next generation of a recovering species. Obviously, I’d want everyone to respect and preserve all of the natural world, heaven knows we already destroyed much of it! Don’t forget your own backyard could be good habitat too, avoid all pesticides and herbicides and only use organic fertilizer, and that in moderation.
  • Keep a safe distance: We have binoculars and spotting scopes to see birds as if they are close, so we can view birds from a safe distance. Approaching them too closely can cause stress, nest desertion and polish off already exhausted birds. Photographers, this means you too! Get the longest lens you can afford or settle for more artistic photos, but don’t chase down something to get that ‘perfect shot’. Might look good on your computer or hung on your wall, but that bird you flushed into the talons of a predator won’t be around to admire them.
  • Avoid disturbing nesting birds: Do not approach nests or disturb birds during the nesting season, it’s not only bad behaviour but in many places its illegal. Fifty years ago small boys might have gone ‘nesting’ but we are grown up, responsible adults too. Observe from a distance and avoid making loud noises or sudden movements. If you accidentally find you have approached too close to a nest do not stop and stare either back away slowly or take a turn away.
  • Do not feed wild birds: Feeding wild birds can alter their natural behaviour and diet, and can even cause harm to them. It is also illegal in some areas. Don’t be daft, we are not talking about your backyard or the feeders at your local nature centre. Feeding a population of birds with the right foods at the right time is a good thing, scattering seed to get a photo etc is not. If you habituate birds to it and then stop you can do a lot of damage. Some birds with take any free offering and it might do damage to their nestlings.
  • Respect other bird watchers: Be considerate of other bird watchers and avoid disturbing their view or getting in their way. There is nothing more annoying than being at an appropriate distance and keeping still to carefully view special birds only for some oaf to blunder in front of you, often chasing the bird away. By the same token if you have had a good view and there are others waiting in the hide or behind the blind, let them have a turn… don’t hog the best spot.
  • Follow regulations and laws: Familiarise yourself with local birding regulations and laws. Follow any restrictions on bird watching or access to certain areas. Follow the country code. If you leave that farmer’s gate open he will be less likely to let birders on his land. Remember… take only photos, leave only footprints.
  • Do not use recorded bird calls: Using recorded bird calls to attract birds can disrupt their natural behaviour and mating patterns. Why do calls attract birds? Either they think there is a potential mate, or a rival. Either way they will waste precious energy if you try to call them in. VERY limited use, outside of nesting season might be acceptable, but remember, if you do, so may many others and the accumulated effect will be bad.

Enjoy your bird watching but respect others and protect birds and their habitats.

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