8 Guidelines for ethical birding

If you love birds, you should want to protect them and prevent harm towards them. Therefore, I present eight tips to follow for ethical birding:

  1. Don’t use call playback! Especially during certain times, birds are hard at work building nests and defending territories. Call playback can make them waste valuable energy in defending against a possible intruder or investigating the call. Call playback may also have many other uninteded effects that are just not well-studied in the literature. Instead, be patient and wait for the birds to come to you.
  2. Stay on trails if you are hiking in a place with designated trails. Conservation areas with trails often have sensitive habitats and going off-trail to find birds can damage sensitive habitats and erode the environment.
  3. Be careful in feeding birds! Some types of feeding may be fine, but other types can significantly disrupt natural bird behaviour. For example, in Australia, feeding Sulphur-crested Cockatoos (a species that does not need our help for sure) makes them bored because they don’t have to find their own food. Because of this boredom they start pulling nails out of roofs and destroying property. It also can alter the balance of species populations, since some specialized birds will not even eat human-made bird food! See [1] and [2] for research articles on the topic.
  4. If you find a nest, don’t get too close to the nest and move away slowly. Photography it from a distance.
  5. Don’t use flash photography, especially on birds in very dim light at night.
  6. If you find a rare species, do not share its location in a public place such as a public internet forum. Instead, report it to any conservation groups that exist for that species, or submit it to eBird. eBird protects rare species sightings by not giving away precise details of the find. If you do submit to eBird, make sure not to share any pictures with EXIF information that could potentially be correlated with your eBird reports to yield an exact time and place. This applies especially to shots with GPS information, as some cameras have this feature.
  7. Be careful not to get too close to certain types of birds, such as nesting shorebirds. Certain birds may abandon a nest if disturbed (see [3]). The effect is especially strong for dog disturbances. Never bring dogs to nesting areas such as beaches with active nesting shorebirds. The effect can be devastating (eg. [4]).
  8. Submit as many sightings as you can to eBird. Researchers can use this data to provide strong recommendations for bird conservation or find out more about species so that we can learn more about them and protect them. If we are going to go out, increase the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and derive enjoyment from birds, we should give something back to helping them.

1. Schlacher, Thomas A., Tara Nielsen, and Michael A. Weston. “Human recreation alters behaviour profiles of non-breeding birds on open-coast sandy shores.” Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 118 (2013): 31-42.
2. Ottoni, Iris, Francisco FR de Oliveira, and Robert J. Young. “Estimating the diet of urban birds: The problems of anthropogenic food and food digestibility.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 117.1-2 (2009): 42-46.
3. Anderson, Daniel W. “In my experience: dose-response relationship between human disturbance and Brown Pelican breeding success.” Wildlife Society Bulletin (1973-2006) 16.3 (1988): 339-345.
4. Lord, Andrea, et al. “Effects of human approaches to nests of northern New Zealand dotterels.” Biological conservation 98.2 (2001): 233-240.

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