Using a phone appEnjoy Birdwatching Without Harming the Birds or the Environment, or Offending Other People

May 12, 2006 Rosemary Drisdelle

Bird watchers can adopt simple birding ethics to avoid disturbing birds, people, and the natural environment.

What makes an ethical bird watcher? There are some simple birding ethics – rules birders should keep in mind while out looking for feathered friends. Most are common sense things, things that help to avoid disturbing birds, disturbing other people, or harming the environment. A few pieces of ethical knowledge, however, are not so obvious. Here are some basic rules of birding ethics:

  • Take care not to offend other people while you are bird watching: respect private property and the privacy of others. Don’t disrupt the enjoyment that other people are getting from their own activities.
  • Avoid disturbing or stressing birds, especially breeding birds, which can be very susceptible to stress. They may abandon a nest of eggs or chicks if they are unduly disturbed. Similarly, don’t harass them with excessive use of bird calls, and don’t disturb a nest or handle eggs or chicks that you come across. **
  • Leave nothing but footprints: avoid damaging the natural environment. Leave it just as you found it so that others can enjoy it too. This means taking any garbage away with you when you leave. In particular, don’t feed wild birds inappropriate food, and don’t leave food scraps or garbage scattered around where they may attract bird predators.
  • Your intentions may be good, but it’s often best not to interfere with birds that appear to be in distress. Baby birds on the ground can seem abandoned, but may be just out of the nest and learning how to fly. The parents are probably close by and they will return when you have gone. Don’t keep them waiting!
  • A hummingbird that appears dead may simply be in a state of torpor – a resting stage that saves energy when the high-energy bird isn’t feeding. The bird will revive and fly off if left undisturbed. Similarly, a bird that has stunned itself in a collision with a window or other object will often come around – leave a stunned bird alone, but if you can stay nearby, you can ensure that it remains safe from predators while it recovers.
  • Remember that birds carry diseases. Some birds carry West Nile Virus; some have ticks that carry other diseases such as Lyme disease. Bird mites can climb on board humans and, though they will not stay, they can cause considerable misery before they wander off. Report sick or dead birds to the appropriate local authorities, but don’t handle them.

** To add to this article, might I add that there is now a plethora of birding apps available for smart phones and tablets.  Most of these apps allow you to play the songs and calls of birds.  Please read this interesting article from the National Parks on “pishing and playback“.