“Birding is increasingly popular as a means to be in the wild and see wildlife. Unfortunately, this has an impact on the birds”… How about we change that?
9 Easy Birding Rules
To protect the birds & their habitats
Of course, the rules listed in the general EwA Wildness Etiquette apply to Birding. Birding is increasingly popular as a means to be in the wild and see wildlife. Unfortunately, this has an impact on the birds. The number one ethical rule should be for any birder or bird amateur or photographer to have no such impact, and to put the welfare of the bird and the respect of the habitat ahead of any other consideration. Here we are getting into further details and highlight special considerations and requirements when you’re out there with the birds.
It’s easy to not behave mindfully. Out of ignorance, it is even easier to not know that we have a negative impact. So let’s be mindful that –in a moment of excitement and no matter how well intended we are– ourselves, we could forget the rules. Let’s be humble and keep ourselves in check.
Since the year 1500, we have lost over 150 bird species – an extinction rate far higher than the natural background. Today, one in eight bird species (13%) is threatened with global extinction, that amounts to 1,375 bird species. 218 species of those are Critically Endangered, including 18 which are tagged as possibly extinct or possibly extinct in the wild.
The IUCN Red List assessments show that things are getting worse. Particularly alarming are sharp declines in many formerly common and widespread species. This is a signal of wider environmental problems, and of the erosion of biodiversity as a whole.Read More » Why do Birds Matter? (Audubon)
Knowing is Caring: Learn before you go. Visit them well prepared so as to minimize your impact, and maximize safety for anyone (birds included) as well as for the enjoyment of everyone. Enjoy!
Check where you put your foot, where you drive that car…
It is critical that we keep habitat disturbance to a minimum.
▸ Respect the designated viewing areas, the roads, paths, and trails where they exist.
🌿 ▸ Don’t trample vegetation: that area is forage and dwelling ground for the animals leaving here.
▸ Don’t clear an area to see better, and certainly not around a nest as it may be providing camouflage and protection.
[Check Also: Respect Designated Viewing Areas ]
Keep them safe – observe at a distance…
👥 ▸ Group size matters tremendously: the bigger the group the more disruptive and loud we are. This entails increased stress for the birds. So keep birder parties to a size that limits the impact on the bird habitat.
▸ If you are approaching birds and they adopt an erect posture or start vocalizing, the most likely reason is that you are too close. Now some birds might instead freeze or fake injuries or may hunch into a protective posture. So watch for a change of behavior, as this may indicate stress. Move back and allow them to remain calm or settle back down.
▸ Don’t incite a reaction. Never approach a bird with the intent of making it fly.
▸ Observe a great distance between you and feeding grounds, mating display areas, and birds gathering location (e.g., such as parrots clay licks and alike). Keep well back and away from nests and nesting colonies. Birds are subject to regular disruptions from the bird enthusiast before you and the ones that will come after you. So, be especially conscious of your actions around them. Under no circumstance should we disrupt nest/colony behavior.
🔭 ▸ Don’t get close, instead make good use of your binoculars, scope and zoom lenses. Note that if you’re using a macro or a wide angle lens you are in essence too close (even if operated remotely). Telephoto lenses of at least 500 mm are recommended.
▸ Not usually thought about, but dress appropriately and prefer drab, muted colors. It’s not just about the birds it’s about wildlife in general. Bright and flashy colors are distracting (taking their attention away from their activity), and for some birds, it might be even a true nuisance. For instance, do you know that common cranes are sensitive to colors (and sound), and may even change nesting behavior and flight patterns to avoid them?
▸ Oh and before we forget: Don’t handle birds… Why? See our next rule.
[Check Also: The Greater the Distance, the Better for All!]
Resist the call of the cute
▸ Don’t touch. Yes, parent birds can leave their chicks alone in the nest for long periods of time. These chicks are not abandoned, the caretaker is most likely foraging. So unless you are an expert resist approaching and avoid touching at all cost. Baby birds are usually scentless so that they do not attract predators, the minute we touch them we potentially set them as bait. It’s not clear that a mother bird would reject her chick if it had been touched by a human, but why take the risk when there is no good reason for that, right?
▸ Resist. Now, what if the bird is not in the nest? Then again resist and don’t touch unless you absolutely know what you’re doing. For some birds, and depending on their development stage, it’s just a normal behavior. For instance, many species of birds such as robins, scrub jays, crows, and owls leave the nest and spend as many as 2-5 days on the ground before they can fly. This is a normal and vital part of the young birds’ development. While they are on the ground, the birds are cared for and protected by their parents and are taught vital life skills (finding food, identifying predators, flying).
☎️ ▸ Best is generally to avoid contact and call the local wildlife care center instead. Prepare: Find that number and email before you go so that it puts your mind at ease. If no one answers that call, then make a note of the location, take a pic, and send it.
[Check Also: Hands Off]
Let’s remember that feeding wild birds overall reduces their chance of survival.
🍞 ▸ Simply put: our food is bad for them. And if throwing bread crumbs to birds seems like fun, well… bread actually hurts birds more than it helps them. It’s basically the equivalent of junk food for a bird. Birds fill up on it and no longer have the hunger to forage on what nature intended: insects, aquatic/terrestrial plants and for some species, fish. Sugary food should also be avoided.
▸ Don’t incite an action with food baiting (or with anything really). Never lure a predatory bird with live bait or with decoys. Baiting changes the behavior of these birds in a way that is harmful to them. Again the best actions are those which happen naturally.
💡 #DYK — Why Would a Bird Eat Clay?
Some birds are known to eat clay, such as these Blue-and-yellow macaws below. This is called geophagia. It is unclear which function is driving avian geophagy. However, evidence is mounting that sodium is the more important driver among parrots in southeastern Peru. Parrots are known to eat toxic foods globally, but geophagy is concentrated in very specific regions. Scientists have shown that parrot Geophagy in South America is significantly positively correlated with distance from the ocean. This suggests that overall lack of sodium in the ecosystem, not variation in food toxicity, is a better predictor of the spatial distribution of geophagy in this system. (Source: Wiki)
[Check Also: No Feeding Nor Baiting]
Turn off the white light, go with red…
🏮 ▸ Prefer a red over a white light at night. Night walks using light torches that are not specifically made to avoiding disturbing wildlife have a negative impact. For nocturnal birds, white light disrupts their nocturnal activities. For nonnocturnal birds, using white lights at night disturb their sleep and might mess up their internal clock. Use red light instead!
But why is red light ok?! Humans have three types of cone cells which have peak sensitivities to blue light(S-cones), green light (M-cones) and red light (L-cones). It is our red sensitive L-cones that enable us to see red when we use red light at night. However, the retinas of most nocturnal animals do not have L-cones and this means that they are not affected when we illuminate them using red light.
▸ If you’re birding with a guide, follow her/his rules. But then, if possible and sage, challenge respectfully if s/he uses white light.
[Check Also: Turn Off the Light]
The best actions happen when we observe quietly.
Our loud voices and human noises are a detriment to birds. More and more scientific studies are accumulating evidence about this. As visitors and observers, let’s remember to marvel at them quietly…
▸ In general, limit the use of recordings and other methods of attracting birds. And never use such methods in heavily birded areas or for attracting any species that is Threatened, Endangered, of Special Concern, or is rare in your local area.
Sound harassment is not ok. Pishing or playing birds call and songs from your mobile device or iPod is nothing else than a form of harassment when overdone. Why? Because it distracts, it can stress, it means unnecessary energy expense, and it takes time away from other activities to respond to the recording. This also unnecessarily exposes birds to potential predators.
When alone with the birds, one usually does not think about the consequences of playing recordings, but more than often the birder before you and the one who will come after you will do it as well. Then these are not isolated events anymore and regularly disrupt their behavior including resting, foraging or hunting, feeding their chicks etc.
▸ Under no circumstance, we should lure a bird by sound when the bird is endangered, or when the bird is at a critical point in its nesting behavior.
[Check Also: Quietness & Peace]
Before sharing a sighting, think about the potential impact on the birds and their habitat.
▸ Before sharing, pause and think. It’s certainly not about keeping a sighting for oneself, it’s more about being mindful for the bird. It’s gauging our immediate environment and estimating if the crowd around would come running to see that sighting, therefore potentially harming the bird and its surroundings.
▸ The downside of sighting apps. Same is to be said with using sighting apps to alert our fellow birders in the area. But we should all be able to enjoy that bird? Ideally yes, but no, not when there are hundreds of us… A recent story comes to mind where, in the South African Krueger national park, the park considered prohibiting the use of those apps. Why? Shared sightings caused visitors to rush to the site, creating overcrowded situations and car accidents killing wildlife.
▸ Be cautious when sharing location information of endangered and rare birds. Sadly, even scientists have to reconsider the mention of site studies, as poachers have used science papers to locate and capture rare wildlife, fueling the gruesome illegal wildlife trade.
💡 #DYK — The Scale of Illegal Wildlife Trafficking
The trade involves hundreds of millions of wild plants and animals from tens of thousands of species. To provide a glimpse of the scale of wildlife trafficking, there are records of over 100 million tonnes of fish, 1.5 million live birds and 440,000 tonnes of medicinal plants in trade in just one year.
[Check Also: The Greater the Distance, the Better for All!]
“Take only memories, leave only footprints.” ― Chief Seattle
We’ve been choking wildlife one piece of litter at a time, and now is the time to stop. The impact of our trash has been devastating on birds. Our trash, our plastic, finds its way to waterways and end up in all corners of the world. There are even human-uninhabited islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean covered with litter and killing entire bird colonies.
Waste such as discarded plastic, discarded fishing gear, rotten food, lead-based items such as bullet casing, metal and glass debris, harm wildlife.
🗑️▸ Dispose of your trash responsibly either at home or on-site in proper and tightly closed trash bins.
♻️ ▸ Recycle what you can, and take it home if no recycling bins are available on site.
▸ Give a hand and collect (and dispose appropriately of) the trash that you find.
💡 #DYK — Ways that litter affects wildlife
Depending on the type of litter, that litter affects birds and wildlife in ways including:
- Poisoning: e.g., lead, paint chips, heavily moldy food or cigarette butts can poison birds if ingested.
- Obstructing digestive system: small plastic items are mistaken for food, swallowed and then block digestive tracks. The bird can’t eat and starves to death.
- Habitat loss: waste accumulates, and take over prime habitat (as in the cases of dumps, islands, ocean gyres).
- Injuries: sharp glass or metal waste cut. Wildlife gets entangled in abandoned gears.
[Check Also: Leave No Trace]
We only know what we know…. And it’s easy to forget the rules in the moment, while in awe. Let’s accept that, be humble and keep ourselves in check.
▸ When you witness ‘code-breaking’ by either visitors, guides or experts, don’t remain silent. Assess the situation and if safe then ask why they’re behaving the way they do. Discuss the known consequences. Those consequences can result in harming the birds and other wildlife. The problem with our silence is that the issue is then deepening, and possibly impacting directly that habitat and its residents.
▸ The best is to come prepared and discuss the rules with your party and the guide before getting on the site.
▸ In all cases, discuss respectfully with uninformed watchers, guides or experts. And if you feel you can’t (that is, if you feel unsafe or threatened), then report immediately to higher authorities as soon as you’re back to safety.
[Check Also: Listen, Help and Challenge Others]
If you are planning to visit birds and the wildlife around, please take the time to also check our general EwA Wildness Etiquette. Help the protection and conservation of the habitats and species you enjoy. Thanks!
General Birding Ethics
- American Birding Association Code of Birding Ethics
- Audubon Guide to Ethical Birding Photography
- Stop! Don’t Shoot Like that — A Guide to Ethical Wildlife Photography by Dattatri, S. & Sreenivasan, R. Conservation India (2016)
- When a Bird Asks You to Back Off (EwA publication 2017)
Rescue code: Resist and call
- What To Do If You Find A Baby Bird (Audubon Portland)
- I Found A Baby Bird. What Do I Do? (All About Bird)
- Baby Birds Out of the Nest (Mass Audubon)
- Resist the Call of the Cute (BirdLife International)
Food rule: No baiting & keeping them on a wild diet
- Stop Feeding Ducks Bread (National Geographic)
- Stop Feeding Bread to Birds (Nature Conservancy of Canada)
Sound rule: Keep quiet, avoid recordings, minimize pishing
- Visitor Noise at a Nesting Colony Alters the Behavior of a Coastal Seabird by Buxton & al. (2017)
- Simulated Birdwatchers’ Playback Affects the Behavior of Two Tropical Birds by Berton, J., Harris, C., and Haskell, D. (2013)
- The Proper Use of Playback in Birding by Sibley, D. (2011)
Sighting rule: Share sensibly
- Safari roadkill: Kruger National Park Wants to End Mobile Apps on Where to Spot Wildlife as Speeding Motorists are Killing Animals
- Scientists are Accidentally Helping Poachers Drive Rare Species to Extinction
- The Truth About the Exotic Bird Trade Will Make You Rethink Buying a Parrot in the Pet Shop
- Unsustainable and Illegal Wildlife Trade (WWF)
No Litter rule: Leave no trace
- Plastic Island – How our Throwaway Culture is Turning Paradise into a Graveyard by Paton Walsh, N. & al. (CNN)
- How Litter Hurts Birds – The Effects of Litter on Birds
- Nearly Every Seabird May Be Eating Plastic by 2050 by Perkins, S. (2015)
Sharing is Caring — Share this etiquette around!
Note that this Etiquette is and will remain a work in progress. If there is anything else you would like to see added, please let us know and we’ll do our best to include it. Let’s be Earthwise Aware. Let’s enjoy and protect wildlife responsibly! Thanks for your support!